The Mariners had a good campaign overall but narrowly missed out on silverware.
A case of ‘so close, yet so far’ would perhaps be the apt way to sum up ATK Mohun Bagan FC’s campaign in the Indian Super League. There’s no denying that they were very good, especially in the league stages, but they fluffed their lines at the final hurdle – when it mattered the most. With it being their debut campaign, the Mariners had a lot of positive memories to take from it.
They started the season well, held firmly in the title race and only lost out on the AFC Champions League spot because of a negative head-to-head record against eventual champions Mumbai City. They were arguably just as good (if not better) than the Islanders in the league phase, but just came up short in the end. A similar case compounded in the ISL final to sum up an eventually frustrating end to an entertaining season for Antonio Habas’ side.
Fact Sheet For ATK Mohun Bagan in Indian Super League Season 2020-21
After making an incredible impact in the ISL last season, Roy Krishna returned in even better shape, despite the COVID-19 pandemic having an effect on some of his early performances in the season. The Fijian striker played with extra motivation for the Mariners, putting in some extremely clinical performances to win games on his own.
He won them 15 points himself with his match-winners and ensured ATKMB stayed at the top all the time. Krishna won the ISL ‘Hero of the League’ award for his incredible work, as he ended the campaign with 14 goals and eight assists, asserting his reputation as the best foreign striker in the league.
Coming off a devastating ACL injury that kept him on the sidelines for over a year, nobody expected Sandesh Jhingan to make the kind of impact he did for ATKMB. The defender didn’t seem to lose an inch in his performances, coming up with heroic efforts to help his side maintain the meanest defensive record.
Jhingan made 117 clearances, 52 tackles and 26 interceptions in 22 games, also helping his side keep 10 clean-sheets in 20 league stage games. Jhingan bullied strikers with his dominant style, keeping even the best of foreign attackers quiet with his strong performances, proving why he’s still the leading man in defence among Indian defenders.
Carl McHugh was another star who missed the 2019-20 ISL season due to injury and had a point to prove this time around. He did so with an iron fist, being the Mariners’ midfield general and being efficient on both sides of the pitch. The Irishman was an absolute machine in midfield, hunting down opponents, regaining possession and just neutralizing the opposition’s supply down the middle.
He made 109 tackles, 39 clearances and 42 blocks in 21 appearances, while also setting up two goals. His hard-hitting style kept many influential midfielders quiet and his quick ball-progression skills also helped the Mariners hit teams on the counter-attack.
Underperformer of the Season – Javi Hernandez
After his heroics in the 2019-20 season, in which he eventually scored in the final to help ATK win the competition, there were plenty of expectations from Javi Hernandez. However, he wasn’t able to perform as the creative beacon Habas required in his midfield. The midfielder put in many sloppy performances, not looking in sync with his teammates.
In 17 appearances, he only had a goal and an assist all season. Moreover, his passing was poor and he couldn’t create chances from set-pieces with much efficiency either. Hernandez’s poor form forced the Mariners to sign Marcelinho in January, limiting his opportunities. But, when he did get a chance in the final, where he fluffed some glorious chances, that summed up how underwhelming the Spaniard was in the entire campaign.
Javi Hernandez’s season by numbers:
Goal conversion rate: 3%
Passing accuracy: 56.1%
1. ATK Mohun Bagan 3-2 Kerala Blasters
2. ATK Mohun Bagan 3-1 SC East Bengal
3. Odisha FC 1-4 ATK Mohun Bagan
Manager’s Report Card
Like all the players, Antonio Habas also had to go through an exhausting period because of the season-long bio-bubble forcing him to stay away from his loved ones. But, the Spaniard showed impressive character to get his team surprisingly fit at the start of the season and get them to grind out wins when other teams struggled to get their wits together.
Habas’ reputation as a ‘defensive tactician’ was further improved as his side maintained the best defensive record and kept the most clean-sheets in the season. While some of the narrow wins were frustrating ones, the Mariners showed impressive fighting spirit to score winners at the very end of many games.
The Spaniard also did well to make his team more attack-minded and score a lot of goals towards the end of the league stages. But, his inability to learn from past mistakes resulted in ATKMB stumbling in the final hurdles. He failed to recognize the defensive errors/flaws in his system and that resulted in catastrophe.
That was the first time Habas lost an ISL final in his career, but being the smart manager that he is, the Spaniard is likely to learn from his mistakes and go again next season.
Lessons to be Learned
The problem with ATK Mohun Bagan’s season was they had to settle for being ‘second-best’ in the league. For a club of their stature, that is unacceptable. The Mariners probably need to learn how to perform better in the big games and dominate against formidable oppositions. Habas also needs to stop being defensive in games and use his side’s attacking strengths to implement a more exciting style.
The Mariners probably need some stronger characters in the team, who are capable of coursing them through the pressure scenarios and come up big when it matters the most. Their set-piece defending needs severe improvement next season, as does their ability to play out from the back. ATKMB will be going for the ACL spot and ISL title next season, but need to broaden the horizons of their squad to do so.
In a season filled with highs and lows, we finished second in both the league and the playoffs. Antonio Lopez Habas managed to keep most of his ISL-winning squad and upgraded it with big Indian signings like Jhingan, Bose and Manvir, all of whom had a big impact in the season. Looking at the team, we were the hot favourites to win the all-important Shield and the ISL trophy.
We had a really strong start and I was really happy to see the team getting crucial victories at the earlier phases. Winning our first match against our former coach and then a comfortable derby win and a last-minute victory against Odisha made the victories sweeter. Manvir’s brilliant finish in the derby was a delight to watch. Watching Roy Krishna, the best player of the league donning the Green and Maroon was treat to the eyes.
But suddenly we started to drop points and the gameplay was looking predictable. The team was putting too much pressure on Roy Krishna’s shoulder. It looked like whenever he was having an average day, the team was dropping points.
When everything was going in the wrong direction, the management did a great job in the transfer window. We managed to sign two important players (Marcelinho, Lenny) in the January transfer window and results again started to come in our favour. Marcelinho and Lenny had a sudden impact in the squad and it looked like they were the missing pieces of the team.
A brilliant Derby double, a comeback victory over Kerala, a dominating performance against Odisha and Bengaluru, a grinding victory against JFC put us in a very strong position in the league table. I was overjoyed to see the team at this stage. We were leading Mumbai by five points and the league title was within our reach. Tiri, our defender of the season made two costly mistakes in the final two matches and we squandered our five-point lead. Coming so close and losing it by a whisker was very frustrating. Nevertheless, we hoped about winning the playoffs .
In a season where we could have done a domestic double, agonizingly we finished second best. We learned many things and got many positives from the season. Seeing Manvir Singh flourishing at such level was really a superb thing. But as we say ‘Win, Lose or Tie Mariners Till We Di,’ we enjoyed a roller coaster season to its fullest and hope for the best in the AFC cup.