The Kolkata outfit are in contention to go down to the eighth position this season.
Before the Indian Super League (ISL) season began last year, expectations were high from a seemingly rejuvenated ATK side. After producing their worst season ever by finishing in eighth place under a new banner, Sanjeev Goenka was keen to rescue his sinking ship. In turn, ATK splurged a load of cash to re-design their team with all the hits from Season 4.
Delhi Dynamos’ Kalu Uche was signed ahead of the Super Cup last year, while John Johnson and Gerson Viera would also be signed afterwards. Despite not opting for a “marquee signing”, FC Goa talisman Manuel Lanzarote’s arrival, which made him among the highest paid players in the ISL, could’ve been considered at par with it.
The Kolkata outfit also strengthened their domestic core, signing experienced players like Pronay Halder, Balwant Singh, Arindam Bhattacharya and Arnab Mondal, who had been associated with Kolkata football for a long time. Goenka shaped the squad, later bringing in Steve Coppell to work the magic with it. However, little did his fantasies work out.
With only one inconsequential game remaining against Delhi at home, ATK have now suffered another frustrating season, having been unable to make the playoffs. Despite being among the highest spenders in the off-season, their “experiment” with bringing together renowned players hasn’t worked and only turned the fans off their product even more.
Steve Coppell has failed to find the right combination at ATK this season
Despite having some exciting talents, ATK have played some drab, inefficient football throughout, mostly relying on Coppell’s cautious approach to grind out victories. However, one roadblock or another has risen up every time they’ve tried to do so. The Englishman’s inability to find the right combination or get ATK playing in the correct rhythm has resulted in a very sombre campaign.
In the season’s initial phase, ATK couldn’t stop conceding goals. They let in eight in their first six games, losing three matches as a result. As a reactive measure, Coppell decided to start playing Gerson Viera, a defender by trade, in midfield along with Halder. This worked well as ATK kept three clean-sheets in as many games, but only won one match.
Once one problem was solved, another persistent one blew up beyond control. ATK have had an issue with goalscoring throughout the term, having only scored 16 goals from 17 games, the lowest among all the teams in the ISL. Coppell recently blamed the lack of a quality striker, along with Uche’s untimely injury for the same. But, the lack of goalscoring prowess in his three strikers is baffling.
Manuel Lanzarote has failed to replicate last season’s performance this term
Even in the games he’s played in, Uche’s only scored one, the same as Balwant Singh, who’s regressed beyond belief at ATK. Everton Santos hasn’t even been able to do that, only achieving one assist. Balwant along with Santos was often played out of position, on the left wing or even in central midfield, nullifying their attacking threat and making them look uncomfortable.
However, the biggest let-down for ATK has to be their captain Lanzarote. Despite being their top scorer with five goals, he has never looked the devastating player he was under Sergio Lobera at FC Goa. The sudden change in style hit him hard, as the Spaniard failed to properly immerse himself into ATK’s system, often taking too much responsibility on his shoulders.
Without his immaculate set-piece ability, he’s been lacking in the final third. Being unable to open up his strikers or play with the same prowess he did last season, the captaincy curse seems to have demotivated him. Having a new Spaniard who can’t even speak English as a captain, itself has to go down as another among many questionable decisions from ATK this season.
While their defensive unit has worked well, with Johnson and Ricky Lallawmawma being solid outlets, their midfield has lacked creativity. Halder added crunch as a ball-winner, but couldn’t really conjure up that creative side to him, while Gerson was mostly deployed as a deep-lying defensive midfielder. Eugeneson Lyngdoh has rarely played, despite having the credentials of a top central midfielder, who can pass the ball and create chances.
Something surprising from ATK was Pritam Kotal’s signing from the Dynamos in the January transfer window. A player denounced by Lions fans for his poor performances, ATK paid their rivals a hefty fee for the services of the right-back. While Edu Garcia’s acquisition turned out as the best made under Coppell, with the Spaniard delivering the drive and skill ATK lacked all season, he arrived too late to save the ship from sinking.
ATK’s need to flex their financial muscle and improve their “brand image” by building such a star-studded squad has come back to haunt them. Compiling a wholly new squad and expecting them to shine was like collecting the best ingredients, only to end up burning the broth. Their management’s been delivered another reality-check, with the reported “Coppell Out” chants indicating their failed methods once again.
If Delhi defeat them on Sunday and FC Pune City win against Mumbai City FC, ATK will finish the season in 8th position, the same as they did in ISL 4. A side which invested heavily to challenge for the ISL this season, sees itself stuck in the same hole which ruined them last time out. However, when their own management’s ended up digging these holes, it’s hard to predict when the fallen giants of the ISL will rise again.