Indian Super League side Odisha FC owner Rohan Sharma on Thursday quashed speculation of a possible tie-up with East Bengal and said it requires a delicate balance to merge with a historical team.
Last month, the RPSG Group, the principal owner of ATK, acquired a majority stake in the country’s oldest club Mohun Bagan which will go with a merged name in the next ISL season. With East Bengal’s investors, Quess Corporation, all set to snap their ties with the club by May 31, there were talks of an ATK-like merger of East Bengal with neighbouring state’s Odisha FC.
“Not at all. Not even close (to ink a deal) because Odisha and Kolkata have always been arch-rivals. (There cannot be one team between the two cities). It’s always an Odisha-versus-Kolkata (Bengal) kind of a thing,” Sharma told PTI from Bhubaneswar, on the eve of their home match against NorthEast United FC.
“We have no interest. There’s absolutely no truth to it. I’ve absolutely zero interest in East Bengal. We just got a team, we don’t want to revamp anymore,” he added.
He said there was never any conversation with East Bengal on any matter related to the merger.
“(Former chief technical officer of Delhi Dynamos) Tathagatha Mukherjee (who is the sports director of East Bengal) has been the only connection between the two clubs. I don’t know from where did the rumours crop up,” Sharma said.
There already have been mixed reactions to ATK-Mohun Bagan merger with critics saying the identity of the century-old club will get diminished as fans are also confused about their jersey and logo. Sharma said the Sanjiv Goenka-owned ATK would go through a tough time to strike a balance in their merger with Mohun Bagan.
He said, “You know how much ATK going to go through for that. It’s going to be a very delicate balance of merging a team with a lot of history. ATK have won the title twice but Mohun Bagan is one of the historical clubs of India. It will be very hard to keep both fans happy. I don’t want to do that with my team.”
“I’m happy being Odisha FC for the people of Odisha. I don’t want to change it by adding another club. Want to make this club ‘for the people, of the people, by the people’ of Odisha kind of thing.”
Talking about the ISL, he said: “It’s good that the league is growing. Now you have an AFC Champions League berth. It’s good to see more matches focus on having a Europe-like league. Having more I-League clubs obviously helps.” “I would like to see a two-tier system with promotion and relegation like the basic club leagues all the world have. We are starting on the path. Hopefully, in the next two years, I think we’ll have a proper two-tier system where.”
Owned by USA-based ship recycling company GMS Leadership, Odisha FC came into existence after the rebranding of Delhi Dynamos FC which then shifted base to Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Sharma, the 27-year-old NRI said they would like to replicate a Mohun Bagan-like legacy with Odisha FC and not just be like any other ISL franchise. In their less than one-year of shifting base, Odisha FC have already finalised their residential academy which is likely to come up soon.
Sharma also said they would like to kick off an inter-school tournament in the state by next season so as to “catch them young”.