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ISL opener in city, ATK to play Mumbai City FC

Atletico de Kolkata players and support staff with co-owner Harshavardhan Neotia, on Friday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: The inaugural Indian Super League will kick-off when Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) host Mumbai City FC, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on October 12.

But before that, the squad will play four friendlies during the month-long training session in Madrid. Nine Indian players will leave for the pre-season camp on Monday. The five — Arnab Mondal, Cavin Lobo, Mohammed Rafique, Baljit Sahni (all East Bengal) and Kingshuk Debnath (Mohun Bagan) — will join after the August 31 CFL Derby.

Their training base will be at Los Angeles de San Rafael ground in El Espinar, Segovia, at an altitude of 1240 metres above sea level. For the record, Atletico Madrid do their pre-season training at the same venue.

They will return to Kolkata on September 25.

“The Indian players will leave on August 25 and they will be joined by the international recruits, including marquee player Luis Garcia, in the first week of September,” Harshavardhan Neotia, one of the co-owners of Atletico de Kolkata, said at a media conference, here on Friday.

Atletico de Kolkata’s head coach Antonio Lopez Habas raised slight concerns regarding the artificial turf at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium, but stated that his team have no scope for excuses.

“The artificial turf is a big problem but we have to adapt and can’t make excuses. The pre-season camp in Spain should bring us all even closer and help build understanding between Indian and foreign players…

“My first job will be to know the players… I am really looking forward to an exciting camaraderie between the footballers prior to the season,” Habas said.

“The main objective is to build a group as a competitive team. To compete in the league we have to compete every day. Coming back, we also look forward to spending time in the city and to learn the culture,” he added.

Atletico de Kolkata will start training in Los Angeles de San Rafael from August 27.

The training would consist of specific exercises and players will undergo ball coordination, energy and agility movements to keep the pace up for 90 minutes. Training would also be geared towards building up stamina.

Utsav Parekh, one of the co-owners of Atletico de Kolkata, said they are working on the pricing of the tickets.

“I would say it will not be as expensive as tickets were when the Lionel Messi-led Argentina played Venzuela at Salt Lake stadium. And I should add it will not be as cheap as I-League matches. We are working on taking the middle-path,” he said.

Talking about grassroots development, Neotia said: “We will start focussing on the grassroots after the first season. We had preliminary talks with Atletico Madrid officials. We are committed to developing the game at the grassroots. From January onwards, we will tie-up with different schools and colleges and take it forward.”

Meanwhile, Atletico announced the signing of three more players — Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra, Botswana midfielder Ofentse Nato and Basilio Sancho — during the media conference.

The franchise also launched ‘Fanatk Adda’ for fan outreach.

Speaking about Atletico’s pre-season camp, assistant coach Jose Ramirez Barreto said he was looking forward to the month-long jaunt. “I am excited… It’s a big break for me... I will try to learn as much as possible. The main thing is the facility. Atletico Madrid will provide us that. Here we do not get a chance to experience such facilities,” the Brazilian said.