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Bengal coach Ranjan Bhattacharya apologises for calling Mohun Bagan 'ATK'

RANJAN BHATTACHARYA HAS walked back his controversial comments that sparked outrage from Mohun Bagan fans.

The head coach of the Bengal football team had referred to the Mohun Bagan club's football team as just 'ATK', which was seen by the club's fans as an insult.

The multi-sport club Mohun Bagan AC's football team plays with the brand name 'ATK Mohun Bagan FC' following a deal with their investors Kolkata Games & Sports Private Limited (KGSPL). KGSPL previously owned an ISL franchise called Atletico de Kolkata, named after co-owners Atletico de Madrid, later renamed ATK FC when the Spanish club left the venture.

In 2020, they decided to invest in Mohun Bagan instead, and after acquiring 80% shares in the 130+ year old club's football department, launched a branding campaign which at various times characterized the team as a "merged club" or a continuation of the erstwhile ATK FC, contradicting itself several times in the process, while obfuscating from the fact that the team was actually Mohun Bagan with a new brand name.

This led to an ongoing series of protests from Mohun Bagan fans who saw this as the corporate's attempt to undermine their club's identity and history. To respond to KGSPL's PR campaign, they formed a 'Remove ATK' movement that has held multiple protests, on the streets and in the stadium. Although the Mohun Bagan officials did not offer their support to the movement at first, this year, many officials started backing the 'Remove ATK' movement publclicly for the first time.

KGSPL have tried to supress this movement, including a bizarre decision to ban tifos, banners and flags from the stadium, which led to fans arguing with the police to ensure Mohun Bagan flags were allowed in the stadium.

Still, due to the high budget PR campaign, many including players and coaches referred to the Mohun Bagan team as just 'ATK.' During the ISL, commentators would also often misrepresent the team as just 'ATK' and it remained a rampant issue until Mohun Bagan officials complained about it.

Recently, Gokulam Kerala FC head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annense said he would refer to the team as 'ATK' because it was easier to say. There were several similar incidents especially from those who were not from West Bengal and had limited knowledge of the club's true identity.

But when Bengal team coach Ranjan Bhattacharya did the same in an interview with Xtra Time, it created a sharp reaction, because in the fans' eyes it was not expected from someone in his position.

After Bengal lost the Santosh Trophy final to Kerala, the Mohun Bagan club officials offered help to the state team's training for friendly matches against the club and the Indian national team. Bengal, under Mr Bhattacharya's tutelege, was allowed to use the Mohun Bagan Ground for its practice. This resulted in his multiple use of the term 'ATK' further agitating the fans.

But Bhattacharya, in a statement given to Mohun Bagan's social media page, apologised for his previous remarks,

"It was unfortunate... I was speaking in a hurry... for which I am sorry. I'd say to Mohun Bagan members and fans... to take it sportingly. Don't be saddened because of my comments. I am truly sorry and remorseful for this. Mohun Bagan is only Mohun Bagan. Mohun Bagan will always remain Mohun Bagan."

He also thanked the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club for allowing his team to practice in their stadium,

"There was a few days' gap which I was a little worried about. But here, I must express my gratitude towards Mohun Bagan club, they gave us the opportunity to practice."

Many fans of other clubs, however, celebrated Bhattacharya's use of the 'ATK' name, seeing it as a fitting way to take shots at Mohun Bagan.

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