Indian Football Stands to Gain Nothing From Mohun Bagan-ATK Merger
DCM Textiles, formerly Delhi Cloth and General Mills, was founded in 1889, the year Mohun Bagan Athletic Club was formed in Calcutta. The company started an annual football tournament in Delhi in 1945.
In the next 20 years, the DCM Cup continued to grow in stature. Top Indian clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, Hyderabad City Police, Leaders Club, Mafatlal etc. were regular participants. Formidable foreign clubs from Iran, Germany and Korea also played in the meet.
Mohun Bagan was the lone Indian club, which steadfastly refused to play the DCM Cup till early 90s, despite receiving lucrative offers. Dhiren Dey, the all-powerful assistant general secretary and later general secretary of the club from 1959 to 1990, remained adamant.
Was Mohun Bagan Ever a People’s Club?
Things have, however, changed with time. On 16 January 2020, Thursday, the RPSG Group, – headquartered in Mumbai – the owner of ISL football club ATK FC, acquired 80 per cent shares of Mohun Bagan Football Club (India) Private Limited.
Starting next season, the 130-year-old Mohun Bagan will be known as ATK-Mohun Bagan or Mohun Bagan-ATK.
After the announcement was made, all hell broke loose, and a section of Mohun Bagan fans cried foul. It is a “sell-out” of a public club to a private hand, fans alleged. Some said the club’s 8,000 odd members have clearly been betrayed.
The club’s long list of patrons and office bearers from 1889 include names like Maharajas of Cossimbazar, Cooch Behar and Natore, Sir Bupendra Nath Bose, Sir Rajendra N Mookejee, who made their money from either land ownership or business. Even the present general secretary Swapan Sadhan Bose is a Kolkata-based businessman.
Dhiren Dey, who regularly sneered at promotional tournaments, was himself one of the owners of Dey’s Medicals. His conscious efforts to distance himself from common members was indeed legendary.
The news of the entry of Sanjiv Goenka’s RPSG Group does not come as a surprise. Mohun Bagan had never been run on public money or members’ subscriptions. Till recently, now-infamous Vijay Mallya was pumping money in both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal for many years.
Well, the difference here is: Now, the owners who control 80 per cent stake, will now run the show. They will take over the club’s ground and exercise significant control in players’ selection and policy matters. Given the ruthless nature of the current corporate world, it is expected to be one-sided. It won’t affect common members, because, historically they never had much say to begin with.
It could have been avoided. The current crop of Mohun Bagan officials should accept responsibility for years of mismanagement. They repeatedly talk about the dearth of sponsors in Indian football.
They say that they have bigger ambitions and that to run the club and play in the Indian Super League (ISL) you need money. So, they have taken a calculated risk by handing over the club to an outsider on a platter. But what’s the guarantee that it won’t backfire?
Mohun Bagan Badly Needed This Tie-Up
In October last year, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and All India Football Federation (AIFF) cleared the decks for ISL to become the country’s number one league. Mohun Bagan’s eagerness to play in the ISL resulted in them taking the decision. They are presently in a financial mess and they needed this tie-up.
A rosy picture has already been painted about Mohun Bagan’s near- certain entry into ISL next season. One only hopes it would be for the betterment of football.
The biggest problem is Mohun Bagan, despite having millions of fans, could be reduced to an entity which is owned by a private party.
Win-Win Situation For ISL
Mohun Bagan’s sudden financial fortunes is good for the cash-strapped legacy outfit. It is also a huge facelift for ISL, which, despite its best efforts is finding it hard to make a mark.
It’s a win-win situation for ISL. The future of I-League looks gloomy, if not doomed. The bigger picture, however, is still extremely hazy. Mohun Bagan roping in a buyer or playing in the ISL, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will result in drastic improvement in the Indian football. It has too many problems. It can’t be solved overnight, and so easily.
Former Mohun Bagan player and coach Subhas Bhowmick said, “Mohun Bagan joining hands with RPSG Group was inevitable. From ancient days, fine arts have been patronised by rich and elite.”
(The author is a sports journalist for more than 35 years and has authored “Stories From Indian Football”. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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