The Mariners are likely to start the ISL with an Indian in the lead striker role for the first time in the history of the competition.

After the departures of David Williams and Roy Krishna, ATK Mohun Bagan are without a foreign striker to lead their attack. While Ashique Kuruniyan and Dimitri Petratos are exciting additions in attack, none of them are centre-forwards. Both Liston Colaco and Manvir Singh have also been deployed as strikers under Igor Stimac in the national team. Both of them have benefitted from the same as a result of their direct style of play and affinity for shooting.

However, it has overshadowed their creative side. Singh cannot make his favoured knock-on sprints and Colaco is unable to embark on his trademark dazzling ankle-breaking runs. Let us take a look at the current situation and analyse ATK Mohun Bagan’s chances of starting the upcoming season with an Indian striker upfront.

Nassiri as the lone natural striker

Currently, the only natural poacher and striker is youngster Kiyan Nassiri. Juan Ferrando’s faith was undoubtedly repaid by Nassiri in his debut hat-trick against East Bengal last season. However, becoming a starter is a different ball game altogether. The number of experienced foreign centre-backs that other teams possess is a major challenge to any centre-forward, let alone a youngster.

Although a promising talent, Nassiri may have to come up against the likes of Marko Leskovic, Alan Costa and Peter Hartley. Physicality will be a problem for Nassiri when he’ll face the aforementioned players. Also, he has more to prove.

Transfer policy’s focus and requirements

Juan Ferrando’s focus on defensive stability and creative output has seen him secure some renowned names. Florentin Pogba and Brendan Hamill are the most notable of the lot. However, that has also seen him take a gamble on his choice of attackers for the upcoming season. A possible reason could be that the Spaniard has not found a striker capable of playing the deep No. 9. role that he prefers.

Florentin Pogba at the Mohun Bagan tent. (Courtesy: ATK Mohun Bagan Media)

David Williams thrived in this aspect as he was given more license to orchestrate play. That also allowed him space to pick out shots from outside the box apart from his predatory finishing. Roy Krishna suffered from injury and did not have as good a time as his Australian teammate. But, had he been fit, he could have benefited from this system equally well. 

Using a striker-less system could work wonders as well as turn into a nightmare for the Mariners. Hence, it would be wise to field an experimental setup in pre-season and the initial games to confirm its efficiency. With creative outlets like Hugo Boumous and Liston Colaco, ATKMB are sure to generate chances galore. Boumous completed a whopping 29 dribbles last season as the latter was the Indian with the highest successful dribbles per 90 with 32.

The French-Moroccan attacking midfielder also created 38 chances in comparison to Colaco’s 24 chances. Adding Ashique Kuruniyan and Dimitri Petratos only increases the creative index. Similarly, Mumbai City’s struggles with their striker’s consistency highlighted why ATK Mohun Bagan must be intelligent in their selection of a centre-forward. 

Reports and options

The Mariners are reportedly in the market for Jamshedpur FC young gun Ishan Pandita and Real Oviedo’s Borja Baston. While Pandita might be a quality investment for the future, Baston will provide an immediate replacement and starting option. Juan Ferrando has a good two months to go over his options but it looks unlikely that ATK Mohun Bagan are going to start the ISL without a foreign striker. 

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