A serieds of gritty performances saw the Bengal Tigers crowned champions for the second time in three seasons…
Atletico De Kolkata (ATK) were crowned champions of the Indian Super League (ISL) after a string of gritty performances that saw them win the title for the second time in three seasons. All the hard fought draws, thrilling encounters and some dramatic finishes took the excitement of the tournament to the next level until a nerve wrecking shootout in the Final aptly catered to the taste buds of football lovers all over the world. The Bengal Tigers being the most consistent team in the tournament’s short history, finished fourth in the league phase and from there went on to win the coveted silverware. ATK were the team to beat this season and they managed to drill out results from almost every game with either a draw or winning all three points. A tough team to crack down ATK set the record for the team to make the playoffs with the least number of wins (4). So, what was special about the Bengal Tigers this season? Was it just sheer luck or was it their tactical adaptability behind their eye-catching success?
Fact Sheet for ISL Season 3
Games Played: 17
Won : 6
Lost : 2
Drawn : 9
Win %: 35.29%
Keeping hold of their core group of players from the very first season benefitted ATK the most. Most of the players were acquainted to the team and the atmosphere which helped them gel well and easily this season. They roped in players only according to their need this season in Abhinas Ruidas, Lalrindika Ralte, Pritam Kotal, Debjit Majumder and frontman Juan Belencoso. They never went for an overhaul of the entire squad. Even their marquee selection was shrewd with them retaining their talisman Helder Postiga who was with them from last season. Although their biggest recruit of the season was perhaps their manager, Jose Molina. Molina had a very tough job to do as he was succeeding ATK’s influential ex-coach Antonio Lopez Habas. His each move and decision came into immediate scrutiny and comparison with his predecessor. But the Spaniard did well to carry on the legacy and regain the title in his maiden season.
ATK were forced to change their home turf and move to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium as the Salt Lake Stadium is getting a facelift for the upcoming Under-17 FIFA World Cup. The new pitch was smaller in width and the stadium had a much lesser capacity in comparison to the Salt Lake Stadium. The team management was also uncertain about how the pitch would behave in the long run. Further, they had to sacrifice a huge number of supporters who would cheer the team on relentlessly.
ATK got off to a bit of a slow start this season as they managed only six points from their first four games. But, they only lost twice in the whole campaign which was the least for any team in the tournament. This shows ATK’s mental strength, squad depth, adaptability and technical soundness.
Top 3 Players
Flop of the Season
Robert Lalthlamuana: Though each player at ATK played his part at some point of time one player who couldn’t live up to his reputation was Robert Lalthlamuana. Brought in from East Bengal with much expectation Robert could never justify his selection and was often benched. Also his tendency to commit silly fouls and pick up cards did no good to the team. Moreover, his red card in the second leg of the semi-final could have cost ATK the match as they had to play more than 50 minutes with 10 men.
Lalthlamuana’s Performance in ISL 2016
Matches : 9
Top 3 Performances
- Atletico de Kolkata 1-0 Delhi Dynamos ( Match Report and Highlights)
NorthEast United 1-2 Atletico de Kolkata (As it happened and Goals)
- FC Goa 1-2 Atletico de Kolkata (As it happened and Goals)
Manager’s Report Card
Jose Molina the Spanish manager came in with a tough challenge to match his compatriot Antonio Lopez Habas who led Atletico de Kolkata to their maiden triumph in the very first season also getting them to the semi-final in the second campaign. But Molina did what hardly anyone would have imagined. He carried on the good work done by Habas and galvanized the team into a strong unit. Jose Molina was never as vocal and dominating as his predecessor, but he gelled well with the team to bring out the best from them. He never went out of toe and played on with whatever was available to him. His technically sound formation helped Kolkata to squeeze out results in crunch situations against tough opponents even when his frontmen were out of form. Molina’s brave decisions and his confidence in his players did wonders for the team as everyone performed their part as and when needed by the team. Lastly, every manager is judged by the results he delivers and winning the title in his very first season Molina has emerged from the shadows of Habas to build his own legacy.
Lessons to be learned
Atletico de Kolkata being one of the most consistent teams in the ISL, will be the team to beat next season having won the trophy twice in three years. With a strong squad and a wonderful blend of Indian and foreign players ATK will be looking to retain their crown. But certain things need to be addressed if they want to keep on dominating the league. Firstly their strike force, Hume was their only frontman who looked lethal but was without any formidable support. Helder Postiga often seemed outclassed and slow on the pitch as his fitness and age became a factor. Though Juan Belencoso scored some vital goals in the tournament he was not threatening as a striker. Secondly the Indian prodigies did a wonderful job in helping ATK win the championship and they should be given much importance. The homegrown players form the backbone of any team in the cash-rich tournament as atleast a minimum of five local players have to be on the field for the entire length of a game according to ISL rules. So choosing the right blend of Indian players is a must. Lastly and perhaps the most important of all, ATK’s success has shown the importance of holding on to the core group. So if Kolkata want to repeat their triumph next campaign, they have to hold on to this wonderful group and only fill in the blanks where needed.
Being a Kolkata boy Atletico are always close to the heart and they totally won our hearts by claiming the ISL title for the second time. Though this time the goals were numbered I think Kolkata will come up even stronger next season. Also I am eagerly waiting for ATK to return to the Salt Lake Stadium as the mass hysteria of the Yuvabharati Krirangan was dearly missed this season. I am sure ATK would be unstoppable with the large crowd support behind them.
Photos Courtesy: ISL Media
Editorial by Khel Now’s Kolkata Coresspondent Rajarshi Chowdhury. He loves, travelling, riding bikes and listening to music.