Jose Barreto, a legend of Mohun Bagan, spoke extensively on the historic collaboration between the most successful ISL Team ATK and 2019-20 Hero-I-League Champions Mohun Bagan. Having contributed to the latter as a player, Barreto is well qualified to speak on the merger. Excerpts from the interview.
Q: What does it mean for Mohun Bagan to come into the ISL after a long wait?
Jose Barreto: It has been a long story. Since 2014-15, all the supporters of Mohun Bagan have been dreaming to be part of it. Finally, it has become a reality. The dream has come true for the supporters. It is a great feeling as an ex-Mohun Bagan star and as a Mohun Bagan fan. I am sure all the fans share my excitement as well. It is a great step taken by the Mohun Bagan club. Two giants are coming together to help build a great team in the ISL.
Q: The jersey and logo have been retained. Your thoughts.
Barreto: Feeling relieved about the logo and the colours of the shirt are there. I don’t think so the name ATK will affect it in any way. The logo and the colours are something that we fans are emotional about. We are happy with the decision of the management, the board of directors at ATK Mohun Bagan. I don’t think supporters could think of going to the stadium and see Mohun Bagan with different colours. You can’t imagine a Mohun Bagan fan putting the green and maroon shirt away and calling any other colour the club shirt. It would be difficult for them.
Q: What does this merger mean for Indian football?
Barreto: See, Mohun Bagan has come with a huge history. All these years, they have conquered a lot. And ATK, during their time as well, has been a club that has been successful. ATK has always fought and remained within the championship race. I think it’s a great combination. It is like two spirits coming together is what I feel. It’s going to be great having ATK and Mohun Bagan together. It’s going to make a huge difference. ATK now comes in with the whole crowd of Mohun Bagan behind them. And for Mohun Bagan, they have the spirit of ATK with them, a great combination.
Q: How will this help the ISL?
Barreto: Mohun Bagan in the ISL, with ATK now, will call attention. It is a great move by ISL too, to welcome them in. I am excited but not only in India, all over the world there are lots of Mohun Bagan supporters who will be excited like me. They will be looking forward to seeing the fast game of ATK Mohun Bagan. Of course, it is going to bring a lot to the ISL. It is going to create a different energy and to have both of these clubs together, is a huge asset for ISL.
Q: How big is this for the Mohun Bagan supporters?
Barreto: For them, it’s like seeing a dream getting fulfilled. Initially, the dream was for Mohun Bagan to come in as a franchise in the ISL but now, I feel it is a good combination. Maybe, for Mohun Bagan to come into the ISL by themselves, could have been something new because the expectations would be sky high. The fast style in the ISL and the pace could have taken Mohun Bagan some time to adjust. But, ATK have already been in the ISL for the last six years. Mohun Bagan joined in at the right moment with the right team. This combination has everything in itself to work out and be successful. We can go on about the change of name, which I feel is very nominal. One can say why not Mohun Bagan ATK but there are far more positives rather than looking at negatives if any. With time, supporters will get used to it.
Q: Message to the likes of David Williams and Roy Krishna on how to handle Mohun Bagan’s expectations….
Barreto: Players like it. It is something that we don’t mind. We love to be adored. We like people to appreciate what we are doing. Players who are going to come into ATK Mohun Bagan this coming season will see something different. Yes, there will be people in the stands but there are going to be people who will worship you and you are going to be treated as a star. The adulation among supporters in Kolkata, you can’t find it anywhere. Changing people’s lives is a reward for players. I think it is something we love. The coach, Mr Habas and the technical staff, all are going to feel something different and I am sure the supporters will really make it special.
Q: As a Mohun Bagan legend, how does it feel to be now associated with another great team?
Barreto: See, it is something we didn’t plan at the beginning of ISL to be the way we joined the league. This is a first in ISL but this could set a precedent for I League clubs could join ISL clubs to get into the ISL. At the beginning, there was a lot of chatter from all sorts of quarters. Everyone had their own opinion but with time, you take a look and say, wow, this is really normal.
Q: What do you expect from ATK Mohun Bagan off the pitch?
Barreto: You don’t have to worry about the galleries being filled in any Bagan game. The fans will be supporting ATK Mohun Bagan. In terms of player signings, again, not bothered because ATK has been doing great the last few years, Mohun Bagan is also a club that is always going for the best. My only request for ATK Mohun Bagan will be to invest as much as they can for grassroots and youth programs. That is where the state of Bengal really needs them. Maybe in the future, we can have a lot of talents coming from Bengal once again. Focus on youth development and set it as your priority to help Indian football.
Q: In your playing days, there was no corporatization of football clubs and to now, you are serving Indian football in a very different role with RFYC. How do you see the change?
Barreto: I really dreamt of seeing a change. During my playing time, one day I wanted to see the improvement of football in this country. I am really proud and happy to see the corporate world join hands to develop the sport in this country. I really feel there is a lot of talent but unfortunately, owing to lack of finances, it’s not being pulled up. We must catch it. ISL has done well to bring in the corporates together. You have to utilize the resources and make use of it the right way.
Q: Message for East Bengal and its fans…
Barreto: See, Bagan and East Bengal are two giants. You can’t forget Mohammedan also. They are a giant in Kolkata. These three clubs are huge. If there is a dream, it can never be over until it is fulfilled. This was the time of Mohun Bagan now to join ISL. Surely East Bengal is also looking hard to come into the ISL. Probably, it is a question of time. There could be a time soon East Bengal comes into the ISL and it will be then interesting to see a derby. ATK Mohun Bagan versus East Bengal or maybe East Bengal too could have another name and join in with another ISL club, who knows. This will bring a lot for the league. Just keeping hope and keeping the faith, it is possible. (Text & Pic: ISL Media Team)