The Kolkata outfit had to find the net on a consistent basis before the Spaniard arrived in the winter transfer window.
Former Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions, ATK had the look of a team running out of options as they entered the winter break. Having 16 points from 12 matches and just four adrift of the top four, Steve Coppell’s men would have passed for a team in a comfortable, yet unspectacular position to the neutral eye.
But for the ones deeply connected to the two-time champions, there was more than a sense of concern. An early-season injury to Kalu Uche followed by a niggle to then new-signing Emiliano Alfaro left Coppell short of options in the striking department. ATK as a result, lost both their opening matches without even scoring.
Uche’s comeback late in October saw them pick up some points, but the striker was far from his best. The pressure to lead the attack now fell on Manuel Lanzarote, who had to fulfil the duel role of creating and finishing.
The Spaniard delivered and kept up the Kolkata-based club’s playoff charge, scoring three and assisting a further two. However, as the run-in became more complicated, Lanzarote was unsuccessful in justifying his multiple roles, leading to ATK ending the first-half of the campaign as the league’s lowest scorers.
Garcia has shone in ATK colours since he joined the Kolkata outfit
Recognising the need to supplement their placid attack, the ATK hierarchy brought in former Bengaluru FC winger, Edu Garcia in the January transfer window and almost immediately, had their decision vindicated. The 28-year-old has already hit the ground running and looks every bit the part of ATK despite only being there for a matter of weeks.
The Spaniard scored in his first match in the red and white of ATK against Kerala Blasters FC. He followed it up with two sensational, defence-splitting runs against Jamshedpur FC in the next, both of which resulted in freekicks and subsequent goals. Garcia was also at the heart of both of ATK’s goals in their latest match, where he first provided the assist for Jayesh Rane’s goal before converting from the spot himself.
A third of ATK’s goals this season have come since the 28-year-old’s arrival. The performance of Lanzarote too, has been heavily affected since then with Garcia now being able to shoulder some of the responsibility of playmaking.
The flexibility that the Spaniard offers is another key factor behind the resurrection of ATK’s attack off late. Despite overcoming his injury problems, Uche, once a regular in Coppell’s team, has had to settle for a place on the bench, thanks to Garcia’s ability to better link-up with his fellow-attackers.
Coppell even went to the extent of crediting the 28-year-old for bringing much-needed quality to ATK’s forward line. Speaking in the aftermath of the recent win over Jamshedpur, the Englishman said, “Edu is a quality player. You see that in his movement. He hasn’t trained this week at all. He had a knock on his ankle, but he came through tonight playing almost the full 90 odd minutes.”
“He compliments players. Good players always complement each other. The way he gets on the ball, not only effects the game but effects players around him. That’s the real bonus for me. He has that drive and determination, which allows him to create the chances. He’s difficult to stop when he’s in full flight. It was a real bonus to bring him in January,” sung Coppell.
There is still a considerable distance to go before ATK can rest easy. The former champions are three points off NorthEast United FC in fourth and have critical matches to come. Coppell would be, once again, looking in the direction of Garcia to help guide his team-mates to victory. Should he be able to do so, the Spaniard could and perhaps, should be in the reckoning for the elusive player of the season title.