The Spanish coach took his team to the final, but failed to lead them to the title after losing to Mumbai City for the third time this season.
In their first season in the Indian Super League (ISL), ATK Mohun Bagan rode impressive waves under Antonio Habas’ tactics, but ended up sinking when the real pressure kicked in. Despite being the team to beat in the league phase, they missed out on first place and an AFC Champions League spot to Mumbai City FC. Sergio Lobera’s men defeated them in the ISL final as well.
While Habas did indeed make them the defensively strongest side in the league and inserted enough spirit within the squad to grind out important wins, he could not come up with the goods when it really mattered. Despite his impressive ISL record – being the only manager to win the competition twice – the Spaniard’s recent record in big pressure situations could be a stumbling block for the Mariners’ ambitions of being in elite Asian football. Despite all this, on Wednesday, they announced that he has been awarded with a one year extension to his term at the club. So, is the team right to give another chance to the Spaniard? Let’s take a deep look at this question and the situations that prevail.
The Playing Style
Antonio Habas has earned a reputation for being a ‘defensive coach’ mostly because how well he sets up his side, which was rather evidential in the league stages of the ISL last season. ATK Mohun Bagan conceded just 15 goals in 20 games, keeping the most number of clean-sheets and shutting out the best of attackers.
However, their attacking game suffered as a result. The Mariners were outscored by FC Goa and NorthEast United, who both finished behind them in the ISL points table. The playing style for ATKMB itself was lethargic on occasions, with the Mariners often relying on the brilliance of individual players (mostly Roy Krishna) or set-piece goals to win games.
They lacked the fluidity and excitement Mumbai City or even Goa had with their attacking style, despite having plenty of attacking options within the team. Habas’ conservative style, which focuses on being defensively strong can be frustrating. Perhaps, the Mariners now require a change in philosophy to climb to the very top of Indian football.
An option with AFC Cup experience?
Not only will the Mariners be playing in the AFC Cup this year, they will also get another chance to impress in the continental tournament next year after finishing runners-up in this season of the ISL. Antonio Habas might have plenty of experience managing in Indian football and around the international circuit as well, but he’s never really had a taste of AFC competitions so far.
ATK Mohun Bagan’s hierarchy have already made it clear that they want the team to be constantly competing in the AFC Cup to be recognized among Asia’s best. If they want to do that, they might need a manager with more experience of competing in Asia.
Habas is likely to continue as manager for the upcoming AFC Cup campaign, but if his side fails to impress in it, there might be reason for change. ATK Mohun Bagan have the pedigree to go toe-to-toe against prominent Asian oppositions, but to realize their potential on the continent, they probably require someone with the knowhow to succeed in Asia.
A new set of ideas?
Having managed in the ISL for such a long time, prominent opposition teams are now finding out Antonio Habas’ ideas – as proven by Mumbai City defeating ATKMB on all three occasions they faced off this season. Continuing with him for a longer period could result in more teams getting a handle on ATKMB’s core ideas and neutralizing them by using certain countering measures.
While the Spanish tactician did change around his formation and team shape through the season, his idea for the majority of the games still seemed to defend strongly, exhaust the opposition and outperform them in the second half of games. If the Mariners want to continue evolving as a team, they probably need a new set of ideas and will have to look elsewhere.
Be it with a change of formation or tactics opting to glisten up ATKMB’s attacking game, a new manager can change up the Mariners’ style enough to keep oppositions guessing. They need someone who can bring that unpredictable factor to their game and hone the attacking potential of all the players.
If the Mariners want to dominate the ISL and compete strongly in Asia in years to come, they need a manager who can continue bringing new things to the table and evolve their tactics.