ATK, Mohun Bagan confirm merger; new club to compete in ISL 2020-21

ATK are two-time Indian Super League champions. Saikat Das / SPORTZPICS for ISL

Two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions ATK will merge with I-League club Mohun Bagan in June 2020 and will compete as one team in the next ISL season. A press release stated that the "the new football club will have brand names of both ATK and Mohun Bagan."

RPSG Group, which owns ATK, announced on Thursday that they will acquire a majority stake in Mohun Bagan Football Club, which will make them 80% shareholders with Mohun Bagan Football Club (India) Private Limited owning the remaining 20%.

"RPSG Group is humbled and honoured to welcome Mohun Bagan with folded hands and open arms to the RPSG family. Personally, it's an emotional reunion for me as my father Late Shri R P Goenka was a member of Mohun Bagan," RPSG chairman Sanjiv Goenka said.

ATK are in the race for top honours in the ongoing ISL season, while Mohun Bagan are also in the running for what would be their fifth national title in the I-League.

"As much as we want the romance of the Maroon and Green jersey and it's 130-year-old tradition to continue, there comes a time when romance almost invariably requires a partner named practicality," Bagan chairman Swapan Bose said.

"To usher into the new era of football, you need bigger investments and a corporate force to take it forward. This is undoubtedly a harsh and the bigger truth.

"Their (ATK's) vision on Indian football aligns with our philosophy and our combined forces will surely take the club to a bigger and greater heights. In this respect it is a red-letter day in the history of this iconic institution."

Former Mohun Bagan and India captain Baichung Bhutia hailed the merger, but also expressed hope that Bagan's 'rich identity' remains intact.

"That (Mohun Bagan's) identity should not go. I don't think Sanjiv Goenka will do that mistake because for him buying Mohun Bagan is buying an identity. If he makes that mistake of losing that identity, that will be the biggest ever loss," he said. Bhutia also expressed reservations over the proposed new name for the club -- ATK-Mohun Bagan, saying the branding should be determined by Bagan's colour and logo rather than ATK's.

"Why would you want to have it's name ATK-Mohun Bagan? That does not go well. That branding has to be done properly. The deal was all about buying the identity and history. With that history, you will have millions of fans across the world. That you will have to keep in mind.

"ATK are just five-six years' old. It's not a very old club. I don't think ATK really have that identity. It started with Atletico de Kolkata, now it has become Amar Tomar Kolkata (ATK). I don't think it will be a big loss for them if they lose that identity. I hope they use Mohun Bagan's colour, logo, and the name because it has got a rich history and heritage," Bhutia added.

Bhutia, who also played for East Bengal, believes the other Kolkata club will soon join the ISL bandwagon as well.

"East Bengal will also get there in a few years time. East Bengal anyway have got a corporate management (Quess). I hope the move will help and inspire," he said.

It is understood that Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), the marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) that runs the ISL, were keen on including either Mohun Bagan or their crosstown rivals East Bengal in the ISL since the franchise-based league began running concurrently with the I-League in 2017-18.

However, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal had refused to join the ISL, stating an objection to the franchise fee of INR 15 crore (approx. $ 2.1 million) as well as an unwillingness to give up rights to controlling identifiers like their names, logos, jerseys, and to move out of Kolkata, owing to ISL's prevalent one-club-per-city rule.

ATK had been in talks with both teams, but East Bengal's sponsorship with Quess, which came about in 2018, did not allow them to entertain any question of rebranding the name. This meant that Bagan were left as the only choice for the ISL club to merge with. FSDL were also keen on the merger to happen, especially considering how ATK's attendance figures had dropped significantly in the ISL despite two title-winning runs in 2014 and 2016. Average attendances in ATK's home matches in the first two seasons were 45,171 and 50,707, respectively. These dropped to 11,703 the following season, when the club had to play home matches at the smaller Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. However, a return to the Salt Lake Stadium only took average attendance up to 12,669 and 18,310 over the next two seasons.

Mohun Bagan, established in 1889, often call themselves the 'national' club of India. They won the IFA Shield in pre-independent India in 1911, making them the first Indian club to have won a domestic competition at a time when most of the field comprised British teams, usually from armed forces. Bagan also won the National Football League (NFL) in 1998, 2000 and 2002, and won it again after its rebranding as the I-League in 2015. They are also record 14-times champions of the now-defunct Federation Cup, once India's premier cup competition.