ISL 2018-19: Steve Coppell says AFC Cup slot should go to eventual winners, but league toppers must be acknowledged

Mumbai: ATK manager Steve Coppell differed from Sunil Chhetri’s view that the winners of the league phase of the Indian Super League (ISL) should be awarded the AFC Cup spot which is currently awarded to the eventual winners of the competition.

The Englishman, who is now into his third year as a manager in the ISL, felt the continental spot should go to the team that wins the overall title as it is the most significant prize the teams play for all season.

 ISL 2018-19: Steve Coppell says AFC Cup slot should go to eventual winners, but league toppers must be acknowledged

ATK manager Steve Coppell feels AFC Cup slot should be given to the eventual winners. Image Courtesy: ISL

“I think the rules are defined. You know what’s going to happen at the start of the season. The tournament comprises of the league phase after which the best four teams play off for the overall title. That is the more significant title at stake and that quite rightly is getting the AFC slot at the moment,” Coppell said at the pre-match press conference ahead of ATK’s game against Mumbai City FC.

However, the veteran manager who has managed over 1000 games in English football felt the efforts of a team to finish on the top of the pile after the 18-week long league phase must be acknowledged with some tangible reward.

“I do feel there should be a trophy if you win the league. Even though at the moment, I don’t think there should be anything else to support the trophy, but I do feel it is significant. An 18-week season over a long period of time now. If you win the league I feel you should be acknowledged,” the 63-year-old stated.

Alfaro blow

ATK were dealt a bitter blow in attempts to shore up their forward department when new loan arrival from FC Pune City, Emiliano Alfaro, suffered an Achilles injury in training that’s likely to keep him out for weeks. Coppell confirmed that his new import suffered the injury and hinted that he doesn’t expect the player to feature for his team any time in the near future.

“Alfaro has an achilles problem. We think it’s quite a serious problem, so he is taking medical advice on that. It’s an injury that happened when he was in isolation by himself, nobody near him. So he has had an initial MRI scan and we are waiting on some expert opinion to the best way forward from here,” Coppell said.

ATK have been left with just two fit strikers — Balwant Singh and Everton Santos —in their squad after Nigerian striker Kalu Uche was ruled out for at least six weeks after suffering a grade three qaudricep tear earlier this month.

According to media reports, ATK are now lining up another replacement to fill the void left by injuries to Uche and Alfaro.

Coppell’s slow starters

ATK have made a slow start to life under manager Coppell winning just three of their seven matches so far. However, the Englishman will not be too worried with his side’s early form having seen his Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur sides overcome similar early wobbles to end the season strongly.

Coppell’s Jamshedpur and Blasters had just two wins in their first seven games before making a late surge. Jamshedpur missed out on the play-offs by a whisker, while the Blasters made the most of the late momentum by reaching the final in 2016.

Coppell hopes ATK follow a similar trend and grow stronger as the season approaches.

“I hope the trend continues this season that we get stronger. The next five games are very important. We need a strong finish before Christmas,” the ATK gaffer suggested before signing off.

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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 21:51:37 IST