The ATK Mohun Bagan boss also implied that a similar tactical output can be expected of the Mariners in this campaign.
ATK Mohun Bagan begin their campaign against a refurbished Kerala Blasters side in what is guaranteed to be an entertaining Indian Super League (ISL) opener on Friday. Antonio Habas’ side are one of the favorites to win both the league stages and playoffs, much as their title-rivals Mumbai City last season.
The Mariners boast one of the strongest squads in the league as well as one of the most experienced head coach in ISL. That being said, the new change in the rule means they can only field four foreigners (including one player of Asian origin) at the same time.
Thoughts on the change of rules regarding overseas players in ISL
The ATK Mohun Bagan boss was asked regarding the change of the rule regarding foreign players in his pre-match press interaction. “Our plan is the same as last season, which is to win the matches. Now the rule is to play four foreign players and we have to adapt to the situation. We have six players with a high possibility to play all the games. But don’t worry, the team is prepared and the situation is the same for us.
“I only have one question. Is it better to reduce one foreign player? Because the players who came had to be high quality. Because it’s not possible for a foreigner without the right quality to play in the ISL.”
The Spaniard was also quizzed regarding whether it will be difficult for him to choose four foreigners, Antonio Habas explained, “Yes, it’s very difficult for a coach to choose every time which player can or cannot play in a game. But this is my work, this is what pays my salary. The more important thing a squad can have are good players. And after that, the only problem is to choose a starting XI.”
Remarks on Hugo Boumous’ addition and others
ATK Mohun Bagan have bolstered their squad with the blockbuster addition of Hugo Boumous from Mumbai City. The midfielder joins on a record deal and will want to replicate his last year’s performance once again.
“Hugo Boumous is a squad player. He’s the same as (David) Williams or Pritam (Kotal). He has good characteristics and is a very good player. But our idea is always the overall quality, not the individuals,” Antonio Habas quipped.
While the tactician did not want to give much emphasis on individual players, Habas praised Irishman Carl McHugh while speaking about his role in the team. “Carl is a player, who is very important for us because he can play as a centre-back or as a centre-midfielder. He is a very good professional which benefits the squad,” he opined.
Key factors for ATKMB and being wary of Kerala Blasters
Under Antonio Habas, ATK Mohun Bagan have often displayed a distinct team chemistry. Ahead of the season opener, the 64-year-old tactician once again hinted the same could be on the display once again in the upcoming campaign.
“My idea is for us to play like a team. Like a solid group. The idea is the quality of the team. We need to have the energy of winning. Every season, you have to adapt to one proposition of football. Be it being more offensive or more defensive, or a mix of that. The coach has to analyze the players he has and after that you take the decision about the opportunities,” he explained.
Similar to the previous season, the Mariners will once again face Kerala Blasters in the season opener. Ahead of the game, Habas revealed that while he does not know much regarding his counterpart at Kerala, he respects the Yellow Army.
“We absolutely respect the opponent. In this case, we have played the first match against Kerala. We don’t have a lot of information about the quality because they have a new coach and new players. We had to analyze according to the individual qualities they have. But my answer in football all the time is the more important is 85% of my team and after that we give our respect for the remaining 15% to the opponent.”
Improvements from last season
ATK Mohun Bagan suffered some crushing setbacks towards the end of last season, suffering gutting end-of-season defeats because of defensive errors. When asked about how he plans on resolving the defensive issues, Antonio Habas seemed pragmatic.
“It depends on the players the coach has. We need to decide whether to attack more or attack less. Because our idea is to determine our positions in defence and attack. You have 90 minutes to win different matches with different situations. We might need to urgently need to win three points. We have to adapt to situations,” he said.
“The general idea is when the team has the ball, you attack and when the team doesn’t have the ball, defend. That is the compromise. The magic word is the ‘transition’ from defence to attack and vice versa. I don’t understand how that determines whether the team can play the same way all the time. It’s not the same to play against Real Madrid or Barcelona or another team with lesser quality,” he further added.
Thoughts on ISL’s evolution and his contribution to Indian Football
The Spaniard revealed he is pleased with the evolution of the ISL since first arriving here in 2014. “I think the ISL is a good development for Indian Football. Every season, more Indian players with higher qualities appear and more quality goalkeepers are there to see. I think that the trajectory of the ISL is fantastic for Indian Football. In my opinion, rule number one is to improve the football being played at the academies. First, you improve the academy and then you look to improve at the professional level.”
Antonio Habas remains the most successful coach in the history of ISL, having won the title twice in his career. When asked about how he would like to be remembered in Indian Football, the Spaniard remarked: “The secret for me is the honest respect given to me and my club. I am fully passionate about my job. I’m a professional from 18 years old. I played in La Liga, I coached in many countries and all the time the propositions are the same. Honesty and respect are the ideas I feel you need to elementally remember to be respected in this profession,” he signed off.