With the defending champions missing out on the playoff spot for the first time, Khel Now takes a look at what went wrong for them this campaign.

ATK have had a terrible outing in the Indian Super League in the 4th season of the competition, with the defending champions lingering in the bottom spots with chances of a playoff spot looking nearly impossible for them. They began their season poorly by only getting one win from their first five games and even their star marquee man Robbie Keane hasn’t been able to save the sinking ship.

Things turned from bad to worse for them when Teddy Sheringham was fired as the head coach in January and technical director Ashley Westwood was made the interim coach. ATK look nothing like the side which won the tournament last season and the separation from Atletico Madrid has badly impacted their performances in the field. They’ve faced many a problem this season in the ISL, as we take a look at some of them.

5. Injury Crisis

Injuries have denied ATK to reach full potential this season

Something which has really derailed ATK’s season has been constant injuries hampering their chances at getting a fully fit squad, and injuries have been plaguing them since the start of the season. ATK started off their ISL season without key players such as Robbie Keane, Jayesh Rane and Carl Baker who all picked up some injuries during pre-season. While Baker was later ruled to be out for the season and released by the club, Keane and Rane took quite a lot of time to become fully fit.

As if things weren’t bad enough for them, key midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh also suffered a nasty long-term injury against Jamshedpur FC and left a void in the centre of midfield for the defending champions. Keane has also been picking up nagging injuries every now and ATK’s struggles to get the best out of their top players due to the injury crisis has restricted them from playing their best XI during this season.

4. Suspicious Draft Picks

ATK did not really have the best of ISL drafts last year, with the defending champions missing out on some key players in the draft. Not only did the signature of midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh take away a chunk of the available cash for ATK, they made some questionable draft picks after that by signing Robin Singh for a surprising 65 lakhs! They also signed defenders Ashutosh Mehta and Anwar Ali for 45 lakh and 35 lakh respectively, with both defenders scarcely getting any opportunities in the ISL.

The Draft phase turned out to be a really bad one for ATK, as their draft picks rarely made the starting XI once the season kicked in. Only Jayesh Rane seemed a sure-starter, with the likes of Singh, Ali, Shankar Sampingiraj all being reduced to the bench. The defending champs had a very strong Indian core last season which helped them lift the ISL trophy for the 2nd time, but the owners’ inability to make decisive picks in the ISL Draft came back to haunt them, with their mediocre signings failing to impress.

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3. The Ego Clashes Between Two Power Centers

When it was announced that ATK would be ending its partnership with Atletico Madrid, many were surprised to learn that former Manchester  United star Teddy Sheringham would be at the helm of the club this season. He was accompanied by Ashley Westwood, who was given the role of technical director. The two looked on the same page initially, but as the season starts rolling on, tensions between the two arose.

It is believed that there were some differences among the two about how ATK should play and the two went back on forth with some arguments about it. They didn’t see eye to eye on many things and the tensions between the two impacted the team’s gameplay on the pitch. It turned out to be a mistake for ATK appointing these two in two power centres, as their ego clashes and difference in opinions made for ATK’s downfall and poor showing in the ISL this season.

2. Lack Of Experience

Senior players like Jordi Montel have failed to motivate junior colleagues

When ATK made all those high-profile signings to create what seemed like a promising team before the start of the ISL, not many realized how much of an inexperienced team they had assembled this season. They lack a proper leader in each area of the pitch and even though Robbie Keane has been one in the attack, the same cannot be said for their midfield and defence. The defending champions lack proper experience in their side, the exact thing which played a key factor in their previous title-winning campaigns.

The likes of Tom Thorpe, Prabir Das in defence, Rupert Nongrum, Hitesh Sharma in midfield lacked the needed experience and these players didn’t get any guidance from their seniors. Even the senior players like Robin Singh, Anwar Ali, Jordi Montel couldn’t motivate the inexperienced players because of their own issues with fitting into ATK’s style. This lack of experience showed in their football which lacked proper chemistry and the side played poor, “hoofball” type of football previously practised by low-league English sides and made it impossible for them to compete with the other sides.

1. Sudden Shift From Spanish Style To English Core

ATK took a big risk in changing their approach towards football after breaking ties with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid, which forced them to not only change their name but also their style of football. The owners decided to appoint Teddy Sheringham as the coach and Ashley Westwood as technical director and appointed a whole lot of British players to replace the Spanish ones, which had gotten them so much success over the seasons.This turned out to be a gamble which failed miserably for them, as the radical shift from their Spanish players to English core just didn’t work out for them.

As compared to the clinical Spanish bunch, the English core just couldn’t perform and failed to adapt to the conditions. The new approach for ATK included playing the long ball style, with much of the attacking emphasis being focused through the wingers, as compared to the Spanish one where ATK played more fluid, passing style of football. This new approach turned out to be extremely ineffective for them and the defending champs could only score 8 goals from 12 games, with injuries and problems within the club ravaging their season, even more, denying them a playoff spot for the first time in the club’s history.