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Football is in Bengal’s blood, says Mamata

- Luis Garcia will be the marquee player

Calcutta: “It is a launch of something emotional, of something that Calcutta can be proud of in the future,” said Sanjiv Goenka, co-owner of Atletico de Kolkata, as chief minister Mamata Banerjee officially launched the team here on Monday.

Ending days of speculation, the city franchise of the Indian Super League announced former Spanish World Cupper Luis Garcia as its marquee player.

The team logo, colours and the jersey were unveiled too on the occasion, with the chief minister assuring the co-owners of all support.

Spanish Antonio Lopez Habas was confirmed as the chief coach. Habas had been the national coach of Bolivia and had coached the team in the 1994 World Cup. His playing days in the La Liga were cut short due to a knee injury.

Spaniard Miguel Martinez and the city’s very own Jose Ramirez Barreto have been appointed as assistant coaches. Garcia has played for Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool. Known for his left-footers, the winger is “excited to be part of the Kolkata team.”

The logo, depicting five stars that represent the five co-owners — Sourav Ganguly, Harshavardhan Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka, Utsav Parekh and Atletico Madrid — and a Royal Bengal tiger that has wings, was a hit with the chief minister.

“It is a tiger that has wings to fly. It is a symbol of triumph, hard work, perseverance and determination,” said Neotia. The team colours are a combination of blue, white and red, similar to the Spanish giants.

Goenka thanked the chief minister for the support she had given to the venture. “We are grateful to Didi and would like to thank her for gracing this occasion and show her enthusiasm about Kolkata franchise. Along with her we share the pledge of one Kolkata, one team,” said Goenka.

Sourav said he hoped this would be the beginning of an important era in Indian football. “Football is in the heart of this city. Even before I picked up a cricket bat, I played football in the streets of Calcutta, in school…

“The very idea of getting involved with the ISL is to promote and develop football and the infrastructure needed for it. We have a world-class partner in Atletico Madrid. We want to use their expertise to help develop football at the grassroots level.

“This is a team for Calcutta. We want the entire city to be on board,” said Sourav.

The chief minister was all praise for the initiative taken by the co-owners. “Cricket is very popular. But football creates a kind of euphoria that we are seeing now that the World Cup is on. I hope there will be more sponsors for football.

“In Bengal, the sport is in our blood. I assure that my government will provide all assistance that is needed. I hope we win the ISL. This is our team,” she said.

Chuni Goswami and Gurbux Singh were among those present during the launch at Nabanna.

Infact, while initially Goswami sat among the guests, it was at the insistence of the CM that the star footballer of yesteryear was later brought on to the dais.

The notable absentee during Monday’s launch was sports minister Madan Mitra.

Firhad Hakim, minister for urban development and municipal affairs; the mayor Sovan Chatterjee; Surajit Kar Purkayastha, commissioner of police; Sanjay Mitra, chief secretary; and Rajesh Pandey, secretary sports, were present at the occasion.