The stadiums are ready, the teams are in the last leg of their pre-season, the fans are buzzing with anticipation and yet another season of the Indian Super League (ISL) is knocking on the doors.
With the sixth edition of the ISL just around the corner, Sanjiv Goenka and Co have turned to a familiar face to restore the league’s first champion to its former glory after a couple of disappointing seasons. Antonio Lopez Habas returns to the fray following a two-year break from management, his last stint with Pune City FC being all but a successful one.
The league has added two new teams since the last time Habas was at helm of any ISL club, the period which has not been kind to ATK at all for they have struggled spectacularly as they went through a string of managers without finding stability or a recipe for success. The separation of the Kolkata-based franchise from Atletico Madrid had immediate butterfly effects with Teddy Sheringham failing to get the ball rolling and eventually getting sacked, only for Ashley Westwood to barely help ATK avoid the wooden spoon in 2017-18 season. Steve Coppell did not fare much better in the previous season and ATK finished sixth in the league and unceremoniously crashed out of the Super Cup semi-finals.
While the debate surrounding fanbases for ISL clubs has plagued certain franchises, ATK has almost always enjoyed healthy support in Kolkata, allowing its owners to splurge graciously in the transfer market on a consistent basis. A host of foreign and Indian talents had arrived in Kolkata last year, but a dearth of positive results meant Habas was allowed the liberty to completely revamp the squad to his own taste.
Goals were a serious issue for ATK last season ith the club scoring only on 18 occasions in 18 matches and the Spaniard went about correcting the folly this summer as Fijian international Roy Krishna and his former Wellington Phoenix teammate David Williams signed for the club. Krishna’s acquisition is an excellent statement of intent, for the 32-year-old striker was A-League’s Golden Boot recipient the past season. A prolific scorer, Krishna is in his prime and could very well be one of the tournament’s marquee players in the upcoming season. The addition of Williams provides ATK with much-needed depth especially due to Balwant Singh’s inconsistency while leading the line.
Jobby Justin and Michael Soosairaj’s arrivals add a lot of versatility into the side – the former being the I-League top scorer among Indians last season while the latter’s skills with the ball already earning him a coveted place in the hearts of Indian football faithfuls. Jayesh Rane and the young Komal Thatal add to ATK’s offensive strengths as the team seeks to find its identity once again.
It isn’t simply their attacking lineup which ATK strengthened during the transfer window. Former Real Madrid Castilla graduate and attacking midfielder Javi Hernandez adds some Spanish flavour to the side while Carl McHugh will be the perfect foil for Pronay Halder and Michael Regin in the midfield. The acquisitions of Sehnaj Singh and Dario Vidosic are further testament to ATK’s intentions of going the distance.
Anas Edathodika will bolster an already strong defensive setup, which has the likes of John Johnson, Arnab Mondal and Agus Garcia in its ranks. The quality in depth which ATK possesses in its defensive ranks, with a host of solid fullbacks in Pritam Kotal, Sena Ralte and Aiborlang Khongjee is staggering and would serve Habas well in his quest for a dual victory – the league as well as the Super Cup. The fact that ATK have managed to tie down the young goalkeeping prodigy Dheeraj Singh to a five-year contract speaks volumes about the direction the club is heading towards.
The lack of a distinct identity has been one of ATK’s long-standing issues – an absolute must even for an ISL club. While Jose Molina did lead ATK to a second title through a couple of fortunate wins in the knock-outs, ATK have never really had a settled core of players on whom they can count on season after season. Habas’ re-deployment should change that this year, for if ISL has to make any dent on Indian footballing psyche, stability for clubs in terms of players is key to capturing the regular match-going follower’s attention.
ATK open their account against Kerala Blasters on 20th of October at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi in a battle of foes who know each other inside out. Perhaps more intriguing would be their opening fixture at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan, Salt Lake in the following week when Hyderabad FC, who replaced the recently dissolved Pune City FC arrive for their first taste of the league.
A proven manager combined with a hoard of new arrivals to formulate an astute line-up should take ATK to the play-offs with relative ease, but only time will tell whether they manage to usurp the reigning champions Bengaluru FC from their throne; anything less than a play-offs appearance will most definitely be a disappointment for the Kolkata faithful.
Updated Date: Oct 15, 2019 14:21:53 IST