The Mariners head coach spoke to the media ahead of the semi-finals’ first leg on Saturday.

ATK Mohun Bagan hope to get their Indian Super League (ISL) playoffs off to a flying start by defeating the perennial underdogs of the season, NorthEast United in the first leg of their semi-finals clash. Coming into the game on the back of a heavy defeat to Mumbai City which ended their AFC Champions League (ACL) hopes, Antonio Habas and his boys will be gunning for a sweet comeback with a formidable win over Khalid Jamil’s side.

Ahead of the game, the Mariners head coach shared his thoughts with the media during the pre-match press conference on Friday. Here are the excerpts from the interaction.

Thoughts on Mumbai defeat and aftermath

Antonio Habas is definitely disappointed over the loss to Mumbai in the end and spoke about what went wrong, saying: “It all depends on the circumstances in football. I had to separate the final conclusion to the league stages. The final conclusion is Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan both had the same points. The only difference between the two sides were only in terms of goals, not the points!”

The gaffer also gave an update on Sandesh Jhingan, who limped off against Mumbai City sparking fears over his availability for this game. He said: “Sandesh is a very important player for us. He is of same importance of the other players. But we have no excuses, if Sandesh is not available to play, we’ll play another player instead of him. We have 25 good players and we have to continue without him if needed.”

Thoughts on NorthEast United

Habas is well aware of how NorthEast United have evolved under Jamil and when asked about their strengths, he said: “I think NorthEast United have had a very good season in the ISL. They’re a very difficult team to pay against because they have good players in defence, good players in centre-midfield and good players in attack. I’m pretty sure if our players give their 100% on the pitch, we can get past this hurdle.”

The gaffer also spoke about the strengths and weaknesses of the NorthEast United side, saying: “I think that NorthEast are a very balanced team during the entire season. I don’t want to speak about what is good or bad about it. Because that is something I’ll talk with my players and not anyone else.”

Since Jamil took over NorthEast United, he’s attained an incredible win-rate with them in the ISL. When asked about his confidence to break their momentum, Habas said: “I think he’s making a good squad after the change of coaches. We have the proposal of winning the two matches to win the semi-finals, that’s the only idea we have in our brains.”

How he’s keeping players motivated and thoughts on drop in performance levels

The Spaniard also revealed how he’s keeping his players motivated after missing out on the ACL on such a narrow margin. He said: “Life continues. Football continues. We have to think only positively right now. That’s our idea. We have a lot of time with no family or nothing. Now we only have 10 days in the season so we have to think positively. Our idea is to win the ISL and then reunite with our families.”

Habas also spoke about what could’ve triggered ATKMB’s downfall in performance levels over the last few games, saying: “No real explanation for that because before the last 2 matches, we won our last 5 consecutive games. This is football, this isn’t mathematics.”

The Spaniard also shrugged off claims of tiredness causing problems in his defence, as he explained: “I can’t only evaluate my defence only by two matches. Maybe we had a few mistakes, but in football one day or another day passes like this.”

No need for penalties

The gaffer also made it clear he does not want the tie to go to a penalty shootout and rather end it over the two legs. “I’m not thinking about penalties. I want to think about the possibility to play two matches for 90 minutes not more than that. I think if possible we’d rather lose the eliminators through the normal time of the two matches than think about winning in penalties. We have to think about balance,” he said.

Message to fans and reason for success in Kolkata

The tactician also gave a message to the Mariners’ fans who would want their team to win the playoffs and lift the ISL trophy high: He said: “They have to be proud of the team. The team have given their maximum in all their matches. Maybe in one time you had the possibility to win and another you didn’t. At the end of the league, it was Mumbai 14 points and ATKMB 14 points. The difference in the competition isn’t much.”

During his time at Kolkata, Habas has managed a lot of success – winning multiple ISL titles and taking his side(s) to the playoffs multiple times. When asked about the secret of his success, he said, “The success is for the balance, the war and the professionals. The group of players and staff I’ve had are fantastic. So that’s the secret of my success.”

Final thoughts on forwards and Jamil

ATKMB have been experiencing problems on occasions when Roy Krishna is marked out of the game, which in turn sees David Williams & Marcelinho unable to perform at their best. When asked about whether that’s a problem for him, Habas said: “Sometimes we talk like Roy is the only player in the team. We have a lot of quality players in the first XI and among our substitutes. I don’t want to talk about this.”

The Spaniard had a very interesting answer when asked about whether Khalid Jamil is the best Indian manager in the country. He said: “I don’t really know that. That isn’t the right evaluation. The evaluation for a coach has to be after a minimum of 10 years, not in 5 months. I think he’s making a good squad, but it’s very difficult to evaluate one professional only for 5 months.”

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