The Spaniard is the most successful coach in the league’s history.

Given the squad they have assembled and the success they enjoyed in the past Indian Super League seasons, ATK Mohun Bagan undoubtedly walk into ISL 2021-22 as an outright favourite. In Antonio Habas, the Mariners also have a coach who has won the ISL thrice in five seasons in Indian football. But, the blemish of losing to Mumbai City in the league and playoffs finale will be there in their thoughts. Habas and Co. will want to correct course and clinch the title this season.

With the new season just a week away, the 64-year-old sat down with the club for an interview. While the Spaniard’s grasp on the English language might not be very astute, his footballing knowledge is unrivalled. Antonio Habas wears his heart on his sleeve and shed some light on his squad, the ensuing campaign and more:

Expectations from upcoming season

As the only coach to win the ISL a record three times, Habas has only one thing on his mind – winning. When asked about how his expectations from his fifth season in India, he replied confidently, “My expectation is winning. I don’t understand football for losing or drawing. We have to respect the opponent, but I trust my team 100%.”

Thoughts on ISL schedule

Unlike the other ISL clubs, ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC started their season in August when they played the AFC Cup. Both teams have since been knocked out of the competition – ATK Mohun Bagan exited after losing 6-0 to FC Nasaf in the inter-zone semis. ISL 2021-22 begins on November 19. Habas’ side then play 10 matches in just over a month. Talking about the schedule, the Spaniard said he would have loved more time between matches.

“Sometimes the coach needs more time. But, we have to respect the schedule and have to adapt to the situation and condition now. No excuses,” said the ATKMB tactician.

Striking balance in team

Sandesh Jhingan’s departure to Croatian club HNK Sibenik has left a gaping hole in the squad. It has also left ATK Mohun Bagan with only one experienced centre-back in the squad and unsettled the balance of the team. However, Habas is not worried. “My aim as a coach is to use the players that I have.

“Unlike coaches who have a set formation and try to play the same way in every match, for me it depends on the players that are available. The magic word in football is magic,” he said.

Picking foreign players

Tiri, Roy Krishna, David Williams, Carl McHugh, Joni Kauko, and Hugo Boumous are the six foreigners in the ATK Mohun Bagan squad. Five of those six have already experienced playing the ISL. Kauko, on the other hand, is a Finland international and recently played at Euro 2020. Picking four in the playing XI from those six is a tough job. Habas though decides based on situations.

“I have six good players. Depending on the situation or performance, I will have to choose accordingly,” said Antonio Habas. “Now, I have an abstract idea of the starting XI, but in football one week can change the situation. I don’t want to imagine a special situation, I want to be in the reality. That is more important,” he added.

Thoughts on squad

With Michael Soosairaj and Prabir Das returning from injuries, ATK Mohun Bagan have a fully fit squad ahead of the start of the season. Habas is confident of keeping things this way until their campaign begins a week later. “I expect to have all the players this season. Soosairaj and Prabir are good players for us.

“They are important players for us because they are good,” said Habas talking about the pair. “Now, we have to start the competition and after that we can see about the probability or the possibility to play these players.”

A better prepared arch-rival

The coach shunned the mention of arch-rivals SC East Bengal. ATK Mohun Bagan are set to play their crosstown rivals in the Kolkata Derby on November 27. Antonio Habas’ side beat SCEB in both their league meetings last season and finished way ahead of them in the standings. For Habas though, talking of rival teams is a waste of time. He prefers to talk about his own team and his own players.

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