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Atletico de Kolkata favourites to win ISL: Baichung Bhutia

Former India skipper tips Sourav Ganguly's team to triumph over Sachin Tendulkar's Kerala Blasters in title clash

Kolkata: Saturday's Indian Super League final will see Indian cricket's former opening pair Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly pitted against each other when their football teams Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata meet at the DY Patil Stadium in Nerul.

Baichung Bhutia
Baichung Bhutia 

However, former India skipper Baichung Bhutia is backing Ganguly's Atletico de Kolkata (ADK) to clinch the title. Bhutia also announced his desire to come out of retirement albeit for a brief period.

Bhutia's backing for Ganguly's team is not for his close association with the Kolkata crowd, but for football-related reasons. "ADK has shown from the first day of the competition that they are a very good team. Yes, they did not play as well in the last few matches as they had started their campaign, but I liked the way their Spanish coach Antonio Havas has operated.

"There is no denying the fact that they have a defensive mindset, but they maintain that and got the desired result. The XI chosen by Havas go to the field and come back doing exactly what their coach wants. This is not easy. I know from experience, to keep the discipline on the ground is tough," said Bhutia, who was felicitated by East Bengal for being honoured with Asian Football Association (AFC) Hall of Fame award — a first for an Indian footballer.

Kerala's fairytale
"On the other hand, Kerala had their ups and downs. It's like a fairytale for them. They had one great match, at home against Chennaiyin FC and won 3-0. When I talked to the players, they appeared surprised with the result themselves.

Atletico de Kolkata players (left) during their ISL league match against Mumbai City FC on December 7
Atletico de Kolkata players (left) during their ISL league match against Mumbai City FC on December 7 

"When they played the return leg, they conceded three and had the same expression! They scored the all important goal to be in the final, but I feel ADK is better prepared for the final," he added.

Bhutia, the doyen of the Red and Gold brigade, had something to announce too! "I want to wear the East Bengal jersey once again, for the last time, to officially retire from football. I had always stated that I would do so.

"Somehow, it did not happen. Now I want to make it happen. I shall be signing in January when the second transfer window will open and start practising from February to fight for a place in the playing XI.

"It might be for the last five or ten minutes in the last match of the I-league, but I would always try to do better. It's not a comeback or something of that sort.

'Not a comeback'
"I just want to stick to my commitment made earlier to the fans of this great club who had always showered their love on me since my debut here in 1995," he said.

He last played the I-League in the 2012-13 season for his club United Sikkim as a player-cum-manager. He had also unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha elections on a TMC ticket.

When asked of whether Armando Colaco, the coach of the East Bengal club, was consulted before the announcement, Baichung said: "Not at all. I had just expressed my desire to sign for East Bengal and retire from here. Let me start practising regularly and get back to my desired fitness level. The coach will decide then."

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