The striker had fallen out of favour with previous boss Antonio Habas.

David Williams was beaming with joy as he entered the post-match press conference after a Man of the Match performance in ATK Mohun Bagan’s 3-1 win over Abahani Dhaka in the AFC Cup playoffs. He had just scored a hat-trick to help his side get a place in the 2022 AFC Cup group stages.

He couldn’t help but voice his joy to play in Juan Ferrando’s system at the club. Williams described the encouraging, fast-paced attacking football as a ‘breath of fresh air’ from the defensive, counter-attacking style they played under Antonio Habas.

The Australian forward’s hat-trick against Abahani was proof of how he’s benefitting from Ferrando’s philosophy. Now into his third season with the Indian side, Williams is among the more experienced foreigners at ATK Mohun Bagan. But, he has discovered a new aura about him under the Spaniard’s management over the last few months.

Preservation & rotation

Since Ferrando took over at the club in December, ATK Mohun Bagan have had to overcome quite a few hurdles. The COVID-19 outbreak caused havoc in their camp in January and grueling training sessions caused fitness problems in players, including David Williams.

However, the way Ferrando has handled him all through the injury and fitness issues raised the Australian forward’s confidence. After scoring one goal in the first six ISL games under Habas last season, Williams scored three in nine under the Spaniard.

Because of Roy Krishna’s fitness issues and post-COVID problems, Williams was often deployed in his No. 9 role by Ferrando in the second half of the season. However, knowing his fitness problems, the Spaniard made sure to handle him really carefully.

Since Juan came to the club, Williams only completed 90 minutes twice in the last ISL season. He was often substituted before the hour mark. But at least had the energy and intensity levels to make an impact during his time on the pitch. He scored crucial goals in draws against Hyderabad FC, Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City last season in the league stages.

Not just that, but the Australian forward was given enough freedom to roam around from his No. 9 role. As a result, he often moved deep into empty pockets to drag defenders out of position and send his free teammates through on goal with his smart final third passes.

David really benefitted from the rotation and careful handling, producing some efficient attacking work for the Mariners and helping them stay in the league championship race until the last game.

Impact in AFC Cup Qualifiers

After the ISL season, Ferrando got his own little ‘pre-season’ with ATK Mohun Bagan in preparation for the AFC Cup Qualifiers. The Mariners were able to train for a few weeks before the qualifying games and this allowed players to get back in shape as well.

Williams was one of the players who benefitted from it the most. Out of the ISL bio-bubble and getting some training to regain full fitness, he was among the many ATKMB players who were charged up for the qualifiers.

The striker proved just how he can be an asset by leading the line brilliantly for the Mariners in the qualifiers. Starting as their No. 9 in both games against Blue Star SC and Abahani Dhaka, he filled in for the absent Roy Krishna.

David Williams actually started off looking a bit rusty. He missed a few glorious opportunities in the first half against Blue Star, taking time to adapt to the environment of the Salt Lake Stadium. However, the Australian forward grinded hard to get a late goal in the 5-0 thumping, something that significantly raised his confidence levels.

As a result, he ended up having his best game of the season against Abahani Dhaka. Williams produced a few poacher’s finishes for his first two goals, connecting from impressive crosses perfectly. He then rounded the goalkeeper to tap in his hat-trick, which was his first for ATKMB.

Williams really enjoyed himself in the AFC Cup Qualifiers in the free No. 9 role and was given more license to get into the box and score than drop deep to create. Ferrando’s work on integrating him as the ideal forward for his team worked perfectly and Williams reaped the rewards.

AFC Cup group stages ahead

While he got to play a lot in the qualifiers, it’ll be interesting to see how much Williams features in ATKMB’s AFC Cup group stages campaign. The Mariners will play three games against Gokulam Kerala, Maziya S&RC as well as Bashundhara Kings.

But, Krishna should be back for these games. That itself will raise the competition in the centre-forward spot. David Williams might not get to start all the games in his natural No. 9 position, but he will be used efficiently after making an impact in the qualifiers.

Irrespective of whatever happens, Williams is expected to play a key role in the group games. The Australian forward allows ATKMB to play a fourth foreigner. This is because he fits into the Asian quota, so he should feature in all three games.

The competition will be higher for these games and he need to tweak his style accordingly. But, knowing how steady and visible his progress under Ferrando has been, he’ll probably keep on re-discovering his style to make the best possible impact in the group stages as well.

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