Atletico de Kolkata is number three on the points table and is inching towards a berth in the play-offs, but co-owners Sanjiv Goenka, Harsh Neotia and Utsav Parekh are not celebrating yet. They have their fingers crossed and their sporting spirit intact. A t2 chat with the biz men behind ATK before ISL 2015 gets into the business end.
Sanjiv Goenka, Utsav Parekh and Harsh Neotia at CESC House on Thursday afternoon.
Pictures: Rashbehari Das
You must be finally relieved that ATK is back to winning ways…
Sanjiv Goenka: Not yet!
But the team will make it to the semis…
Sanjiv: We hope so....
Utsav Parekh: One more win....
Sanjiv: We are hopefully peaking at the right time. But relief? Not yet.
It seems you won’t be relieved till they win the trophy, right? (Everyone laughs out loud)
Harsh: Well, certainly from the state we were… there is a smile at least, if not full relief. In the middle, it looked a little…
Utsav: Very wobbly.
Sanjiv: We are learning how to deal with sports now and the vagaries of a game. One bad moment or one good moment for someone can alter the fortunes. It’s different from dealing with a company where it is far more predictable.
How are you dealing with failure and success?
Sanjiv: It’s a part of sports, a part of any game, a part of any club. We of course are happy with the success and disappointed with failure, but both are an integral part of the game. You win some, you lose some. The effort has to be right and we have to play well. And at the end of the day it is the better team which wins.
Harsh: We average it out well. He (points at Utsav) is man who is paranoid. He has all sorts of facial expressions. I sometimes feel I am watching half the football on his face and half on the ground! Sanjiv is a little more in the middle. He gets a little excited when we win. I am completely chilled-out. It makes no difference whether we win or lose.
Harsh: I don’t know. May be that’s the way I treat life. And being married to Madhu you have to learn how to…
(Utsav laughs out loud)
Utsav: That’s a good one!
Harsh: She has made me Zen-like because she is so hyper about everything, that in order to keep my balance, I have to be Zen! Agar kuch tension bhi hota hai toh theek hai.
Sanjiv: This was two days ago and somebody very senior in Delhi, whom I have known for over 30 years, he told me that I have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. I am not sure I have. May be, I have. He said I have become a little more mature, tolerant and patient. That is due to the influence of one man in my life: Harsh Neotia. (Laughs)
Utsav: For me, it (winning and losing) matters a lot.
Harsh: Every kick of the ball...
Utsav: ... it affects me.
Sanjiv: That keeps us going. What would we do without his passion? We would be lost without him.
Utsav: I get too charged up and agitated. Like yesterday (November 18 vs Chennaiyin FC) when our defenders failed to clear that ball and we conceded a goal, I was literally calling them idiots!
Harsh: He might just put on the boots… except that Habas (head coach Antonio Lopez Habas) is in the way, so he won’t let him go on the field! If it was any other coach, he would have said: ‘Get one of those guys out and I am kicking the ball’!
Sanjiv: He would have been our coach! (Laughs)
Utsav: All said and done, this game has really changed a lot of things in me. I have been so active, so socially-conscious. Earlier, I would happily stay in the background, but now I tend to come to the forefront.
We are almost at the business end of Season II. How has this year been different?
Sanjiv: You learn with every game and every mistake. You try and make sure that you don’t repeat the same mistake. And, I am sure Season III will be better than Season II. It is not in terms of winning or losing. It’s actually in terms of organising the club, organising the way things are structured. I think one thing we miss is having a professional CEO, which we will certainly have in Season III. So, the day-to-day pressure on Mr Parekh will significantly reduce.
Harsh: He has two games to play now… football and getting his (younger) son (Saharsh) married.
Sanjiv: It’s a constant process and we are learning the business of sports. It’s very different from any other conventional business. We are learning it fast. We had a much better team this year than last year.
Harsh: Last year, it all happened in such a rush. This year administratively the backup is much better, not that we are getting huge sales of tickets, but the process of selling tickets has been smooth.
The ticket sales must be a concern…
Harsh: Well it could certainly be better, but earlier there was a problem of people not being able to get the tickets on time. All those things are much better. The other thing I feel is we’ve been able to get our sponsors better visibility and more participation. I think that’s very important. The commercials of the game must improve. And that’s something that we are seeing distinctively getting better this year. Hopefully, this trend will carry on. We’ve been able to organise better travel and logistics. There are lots of pieces in the puzzle which are not visible. Sale of T-shirts are better. Lots of merchandising has happened. Our social media interventions have been better… more followers. (ATK is number one on Twitter, Facebook in terms of likes and followers among the eight ISL 2015 teams.)
Utsav: The most important thing is this is not a business. You cannot plan ANYTHING. You have to adapt to the situation. Every day there is a problem… the pitch (at Salt Lake stadium) is definitely giving all the players a problem.
Harsh: This year you cannot do much because it is a new pitch. I am sure by next year, it will settle down.
Sanjiv: The pitch is much better this year, but there are things that you learn. You might go to the best ground curator, but may be even that’s not good enough.
Purely as a spectator what do you look for in an ATK match?
Harsh: I am not an expert but in my understanding, the standard of the game in general has certainly got better than last time. That’s what I hear from a lot of people.
Sanjiv: When I go into the stadium, I am not able to divorce my emotion as an owner or my thoughts as an owner. To me, if something in the stands is not right or somebody is not greeted properly, if somebody has not got the right seating… this is all a part of something that we are supposed to offer to our guests or to the spectators. So, if that is not right, then it’s not appropriate. In a way, you are on attention. You are not relaxed because you are a host.
What are the first things you notice when you enter the stadium?
Sanjiv: How the hospitality team is greeting the spectators. When you start dealing with a consumer-centric business — like power, retail and music — you start looking at the softer angles which are so important. You are looking at ways and means to improve the experience each time and clearly, they are significantly better than last year, but there are lots of things that can still be done… much much better. The constant effort will go on. We’ve got a very dedicated team. It’s not about one individual, but about everyone playing their own roles and making it work. I think last year we had some issues with the team. This year it has been smoothened out. There is no politics. The dressing-room atmosphere is warm. Everyone is together. And this is as much about HR… creating that spirit of bonding.
I think we are bonding very well as a team of owners. All of us are on the same page and each of us has different roles. At an operational level it is working well. At a team level it is working well. At an administrative level it is working well. We’ve had injuries. If (Helder) Postiga was with us throughout the tournament, may be results in a couple of games could have been different and our position could have been different.
(Iain) Hume, (Sameehg) Doutie, Arata Izumi are doing well. Amrinder (Singh; goalkeeper) has been a great find. But this is part of a sport. So, next year, we will plan better. It’s a great experience. It’s fun. We are here to stay. As far as I am concerned, I am enjoying it so much that I will increase my involvement with the business of sports for sure. What shape or form I don’t know.
Sanjiv: I don’t know how it’s going to shape up at the end of the day… I have actually started believing that through sport you can nurture and help people realise their true potential. It’s pretty much like nurturing your own son. The emotions might not be that strong, but the process would be similar.
Do we see an IPL team then? Are you all going to be there as well?
Sanjiv: All I am saying is, for me, the business of sports will be an integral part of the group. This (ATK) Harsh requested me to be a part of, but I am beginning to see a huge learning coming out of this. And I am beginning to enjoy it. I am beginning to see the value creation over a period of time that could be had from sport.... We will be involved with more sports and more with the business of sports… be it cricket or kabaddi.... This is a team that has worked. We trust each other. So, whether it is this team or some other team or individuals, all those things will evolve with time.
Harsh: I think it is the joy of association. When you do something together, there is some amount of time that you need to spend with each other. If you enjoy that time, then it becomes more worth it. It makes a difference when you are all together watching a match. Fortunately, we’ve been friends for long. So, we have that informality. Now when we meet… we also chat about other silly things. (Laughs)
Utsav: We are all into it for the sake of the sport. The administration has improved tremendously. People are not staying awake till late as we had done last year.
So, no partying?
Harsh: Well, no compulsory partying. (Laughs)
Sanjiv: See, the thrill you are giving people. It feels good. I cannot explain the feeling, but it is a great feeling. There is a vendor at Salt Lake stadium, a lady who sells sweets. Yesterday she gave me a packet of sweets. She said it was for our victory.... You are developing a bond with people way beyond your daily call of work. That sense of connect and happiness is unparalleled.
When you are 25, you are very focused on the task. When you are 55, of course you continue to be focused, but these things also start to matter. At a certain phase in life, we all grow beyond immediate pluses and minuses, profits and losses and success and failure. There is more to life than that.
What have been the high points this year?
Utsav: The respect that we get from our supporters in spite of our losses… the number of SMSs I got…. We have got a band of followers, but I would say my job is well done the day the ATK fans would shout the way the Atletico de Madrid fans shout… like an army... bring the roof down.
Sanjiv: For me it’s about this feeling of oneness… for the cause of the city. Everyone is united because they want the city team to win. The club bringing the emotions of a city together is a high for me.
Harsh: I have a totally different high. Thanks to football and ISL, I was able to shake hands and simultaneously get a picture with Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan on one side and Rajinikanth on the other.
Utsav: I took that picture. I cannot imagine him being so excited! Like a teenager with Salman Khan by her side.
Harsh: I was seeing stars. I am usually not at a loss for words, but when I meet Mr Bachchan, I cannot even say ‘Hello’ to him. Rajinikanth is so humble.
Finally, what do you think it will take to get Harsh Neotia cheering loudly at the stadium?
(Everyone goes lol)
Utsav: We will get it out of him.
Sanjiv: When Paroma (Harsh’s daughter) bags a big film award.
Message for the team
Sanjiv: Take it each day at a time. Play with a positive mindset. Play to win. Have faith. It’s also about luck.
Harsh: We certainly hope it happens, but what is important is to play the game in the right spirit. Work hard and leave it at that.
Utsav: The goal is still too far. Hopefully we will. The fans should support us more strongly and vociferously.
t2: Is anyone scared of Habas’s temper?
Sanjiv: I have gone beyond the stage where I get scared of people.
Harsh: Well, there is some address that goes as 19 Belvedere Road (Goenka Niwas).
(Everyone goes LOL)
Harsh: Any man who says that he doesn’t have a problem back there, is lying through his teeth…
Sanjiv: My family for sure.
Harsh: That’s the Waterloo no? You lose that battle anyway!
ATK co-owner Sourav Ganguly at The Park.
Picture: Sayantan Ghosh
How far do you think ATK will go this season?
Fingers crossed, let’s see!
Who has been your favourite player from this season?
Iain Hume. He has been brilliant.
What do you think of (coach) Habas?
I’ve always felt that Habas is the heartbeat of the team. After the game against Chennaiyin FC, my man Habas is back!
One message to ATK fans...
Once again, ATK are playing well and are in a good position. Let’s hope we go till the very end!
To win ISL 2015, ATK will have to.... Tell firstname.lastname@example.org
ATK 2 CHENNAIYIN FC 1
The 50,000-odd crowd erupted in euphoria as the referee blew the final whistle. ATK co-owners (L-R) Harsh Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka and Utsav Parekh led the cheers. “I spoke to the boys before the start of ISL and wished them luck. It’s great to watch them play so well after all the hard work they put in over the last few months,” said Harsh, who couldn’t attend the last two home games, which ATK lost, but proved to be the lucky charm on Wednesday the 18th!
Sorry, Shoojitda! Piku man Shoojit Sircar, a Salt Lake stadium regular and a prominent member of the NorthEast United FC camp, witnessed Atletico’s dramatic turnaround against Abhishek Bachchan’s Chennaiyin FC. He followed Junior B out of the stadium before the final whistle. He looked visibly disappointed as ATK’s win took them four points clear of NorthEast United FC on the day.
The Gangulys: “ATK were brilliant today, but I’m taking one game at a time and not thinking about the semi-finals yet,” said a cautious Dona Ganguly, there with daughter Sana, whose exams have ended right before ATK’s string of home games. “The whole team played well, every single player,” said Dona, when asked about her Man of the Match.
Game for yoga? “It was an entertaining game between two top sides and the atmosphere in the stadium was absolutely electric, ” said yoga lady and t2 columnist Varuna Shunglu, who is a Lionel Messi fan and watched the game with friend and Kerala Blasters FC defender Nirmal
Helder Postiga was kept busy throughout the game by his fans who wanted to get clicked with the ATK marquee man. Although we loved having him around with us in the stands, we can’t wait to see the Portuguese striker back on the pitch.
ONE FOR THE FUTURE:
15-month-old Navroop Singh aka Baljit Sahni (junior) is not only the youngest but also one of the most loyal ATK fans, having attended every home game this year, with his mother. Clearly, with this sort of love for football, don’t be surprised if you see him on the field sporting ATK’s red and white stripes in about 18 years from now.
Sanjiv Goenka, Utsav Parekh and Abhishek Bachchan engage in some friendly pre-match banter.
Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham
27th minute: Abhishek Bachchan is Mr Khushi, punching the air and hugging everyone in his vicinity, as Chennaiyin FC’s Raphael Augusto gives his team the lead.
65th minute: AB is Mr Gham after ATK’s dramatic turnaround with goals from Doutie and Hume, scripting Chennaiyin FC’s hat-trick of defeats.
Text: Rwitoban Deb
Pictures: Anindya Shankar Ray