The Mariners play Gokulam Kerala in the AFC Cup opener.

ATK Mohun Bagan start their AFC Cup 2022 campaign against Group D opponents and fellow India side Gokulam Kerala on Wednesday. Expectations are high for Juan Ferrando’s men with an expensive squad and ‘favourites’ tag on paper. Apart from Gokulam Kerala, the Mariners will also play Bangladesh giants Bashundhara Kings and Maldivian champions Maziya S&RC in Group D.

Ahead of their opening fixture at the Salt Lake Stadium, coach Juan Ferrando shared his thoughts on the tournament and the upcoming game.

Mood ahead of tomorrow’s match

Juan Ferrando started by asserting on the mood inside the camp ahead of tomorrow’s game.

“For us it’s a pleasure to be here in the group stage. We play against three very good teams, who were champions (in their respective leagues). The team is happy to be here and we will do our very best.”

Preparations for AFC Cup campaign

ATK Mohun Bagan enjoyed some training time after their playoff fixtures. Juan Ferrando spoke on the preparations.

“The preparation was good, of course. At the end, the most important day is tomorrow. I hope the players enjoy the game because at the end of such an international competition is that they enjoy. If the players are enjoying, the supporters will also enjoy the match.  Gokulam Kerala have delivered high performance. In our case, we had three weeks to prepare for the group stage fixtures. Overall, I am happy with the players’ performance.”

Home ground advantage

Since all the Group D fixtures will be played at Kolkata, ATK Mohun Bagan is likely to have a bigger fan backing than any other team in the group. The tactician shed light on the topic.

“To play at home is amazing because the supporters are close to the team. Yes, this is an advantage. But we shouldn’t forget that on the pitch it is eleven players versus another eleven. We have a lot of respect for the three teams. They were the champions in their respective leagues. We are working hard.”

If being out of action for nearly a month is a disadvantage

ATK Mohun Bagan haven’t played a match in a month’s time. A few days back they played a friendly against the Indian national team. When asked if this will act as a disadvantage, Ferrando opined, “Every game is different. The tactics, plans are important. Regarding my team, the players trust in our plan, they trust in themselves and in the team.

“This is very important because we’ll be playing against the best teams. International competitions are different. When you are in championship, there are 20-25 or 30 games. Here there are only three games. The atmosphere is the dressing room and the emotions are important – it’s more of psychology than tactical.”

Roy Krishna available?

The tactician commented on Roy Krishna’s availability, “Roy Krishna is here. He is working with us. We will see tomorrow.”

Confidence prevails in the group stage?

ATK Mohun Bagan fared well in the playoffs. When asked if the confidence will prevail during the group stage also, Ferrando commented, “The situation here was difficult, because when you are inside a new club, the style is different. It was hard to win. But I am happy because I can work with the team. I am happy due to the facilities prevalent for the training seasons. Sometimes, there are a few problems – personal ones as well.

“Like Roy Krishna was close to his family for personal problems. Some injuries were there. But I am 90% happy because I can work with the team and the players are working hard. The players now more or less understand my style. But we need time because in football, we can improve everyday.”

Thoughts on the opponents

Juan Ferrando shared his thoughts on the opponents, “Gokulam Kerala’s season was fantastic. They lost only one game. Their plan is very clear. They are good in defence, attack and during transitions. Its very important to be ready for ninety minutes. In front of the opponents, they show high performance. Most importantly, they work like a team.”

On Gokulam’s attacking force

“When they are attacking, they know where is the space and the moment to attack in every space. The team is compact as well. When I saw their games in the I-League and even the last game here. I like this team because their plan works well for the entire team. Sometimes it happens that the time for attack and press is not the same for all the teams. They know the best moments to attack, defend.”, mentioned Juan Ferrando.

Sandesh Jhingan available?

The tactician commented on the availability of Sandesh Jhingan, “I’m happy with the players. It is difficult to be ready and deliver high performances. It is the same in Europe as well. Sandesh has some problems. He is much better now. Sandesh is working with the team since the last two weeks. He played in the last friendly. Sometimes depending on the place of the injury, the treatment varies. The player has to just exercise. Sandesh is now taking part in the training sessions and working with the team.”

Team news

Juan Ferrando shed light on the injury updates, “More or less everybody is ready. (Michael) Soosairaj has some problem in his groin. The rest of the players are ready. But we have to wait till the last minute, since we have a training session this evening.”

Which foreigners are registered?

“I can’t disclose that. I have time until tomorrow morning. Playing against Gokulam Kerala isn’t the same as playing against Basundhara. I will have different plans. We may field Roy, we may use Williams as a number nine. I’ll decide tomorrow morning who’s the best to help the team.”, quipped Ferrando on the registration of the foreigners.

Rotation of players

Since ATK Mohun Bagan will have to play three games in a span of six days, they’ll need to rotate the squad accordingly. Juan Ferrando mentioned, “All the four teams have the same problem – we have a game, recovery session, a training session. It is very important that the players fully recovered before the match. Also, our target is to know who is the best performer for the next match.

“We don’t know after the Gokulam match which player is tired. It is important after 48 hours to decide who is in best performance. It is the problem for all the coaches of all the teams. In case of foreign players, its important to decide who can help. Regarding the local players, it’s very important they get time for recovery because we have three games in quick succession.”

Change in style of play?

When asked if there will be any change in their style of play, the head coach asserted, “Its very important for all the players to understand our concepts, our way. Of course, we want to win. When we decide to win, it is necessary to choose a way. For us, it is possession-based attacking football. Maybe its not the best.

“In football, you can play in different styles. If Joni Kauko is not available, we play Abhishek. If its not possible to play Abhishek, we can play Hugo. Subhasish can be used as a number 8 or a left-back. Except Amrinder and Subrata who are the keepers, rest of the players are ready to play in various positions.”

ATKMB favourites?

When asked why his team are considered favourites despite of not winning an accolade, Ferrando diplomatically commented, “The three teams were champions. We ended in the third position (ISL). Maybe they are thinking us to be favourites since we are a big name and have a very good squad. In front of all the teams, exist three games. The game is played between 22 players and in the same weather. For me it’s not a pressure.”

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