Indian Football Season 2018-19 Review: ATK
Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar
After showing little signs of improvement despite having an experienced side, it is time for the West Bengal-based outfit to go back to the drawing board.
Before the season began, there were expectations of redemption from ATK for their previous season’s failures. An eye-opening low-placed finish for the two-time Indian Super League (ISL) champions prompted Sanjeev Goenka to start talent-hunting quickly. He rounded up some of the best from around the league including Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche, and Balwant Singh, while also making a plethora of changes to management and the squad.
However, ATK would quickly realize that “dream-teams” don’t find it easy to rise through reality. Their star-studded combination failed mostly due to a complete lack of chemistry or knowledge among the players in how to play with each other. They ended up being extremely underwhelming, playing some of the worst football in the league despite having such a talented unit. Injuries, systematic set-backs, and internal issues plagued their season, resulting in only six league wins as well as an overall disappointing season for the former giants.
Fact Sheet for Indian Football Season 2018-19
Games Played: 21
Won : 8
Lost : 7
Drawn : 6
Win %: 38
The Kolkata-outfit invested a lot into ensuring a prolific pre-season outing, travelling to Spain in order to get ready for the ISL season. They faced some local Spanish outfits in tight encounters but made the headlines when they arranged a friendly with Premier League side Fulham during their stay in Spain as well. The former ISL champions held their own against the London-side, only losing 1-0 thanks to a goal from German international Andre Schurrle!
Apart from that, they won two and lost two games in the remaining four pre-season matches. The Kolkata-side defeated Lorca FC and Real Murcia by 1-0 margins, thanks to winners from Kalu Uche and Balwant in respective encounters. Their most impressive win came later against CD Alumenacar City 5-2 thanks to four goals from Uche and one from Jayesh Rane. However, their campaign ended on a somber note with a 3-0 loss to FC Jumilla.
Underperformer of the Season
The versatile Brazilian was signed to fire up ATK’s attack but ended up extinguishing whatever flame they managed to create in attack. After a prolific season with Mumbai City, he couldn’t at all adapt with the transition and failed to be Steve Coppell’s incisive attacker. Santos was extremely poor in a larger chunk of games, having no contribution in the attack, scuffing chances and frustrating team-mates with his error-prone nature all around.
In 16 appearances, he didn’t score a single goal and only assisted once. Played as a striker, winger and even as a central midfielder, he couldn’t thrive at either role. Santos ended up being a burden in ATK’s attack rather than being the goal-scoring hero they had expected him to be. He also held others back from reaching their best, resulting in ATK being extremely inconsistent going forward. He might’ve netted one in the Super Cup, but Santos poor showing shouldn’t grant him another season with the Kolkata outfit.
Everton's Performance in ISL 2018-19
Top 3 Performances
1. Chennaiyin FC 2-3 ATK (Report and Highlights)
2. ATK 1-0 Pune City (Report and Highlights)
3. Delhi Dynamos 1-2 ATK (Report and Highlights)
Manager's Report Card
Steve Coppell’s experience in the ISL encouraged ATK to continue their English systematic experiment, but the end-result wasn’t as fruitful as they’d hoped for. Despite doing stellar work with a limited Jamshedpur FC side last season, Coppell couldn’t seem to handle all the luxury in his disposal at ATK. While he was unfortunate to inherit a completely new squad looking to him as hope, Coppell’s cautious tactics didn’t help at all. He often focused on the defensive aspect than the attacking, where ATK were most dangerous at.
In the first half, he aimed to solidify ATK’s leaking defence to make them an impenetrable unit. However, doing that resulted in their attacking game becoming mellow and predictable. Before he could find all solutions, ATK slipped below the top, playing some disappointing football at that. Even with all the stars in his disposal, Coppell’s old-school style saw ATK play a slow, predictable game. ATK only scored 18 goals in as many league games, as their lethargic style and little development meant Coppell won’t be at the helm next season.
Despite a disappointing ISL campaign, ATK managed to show signs of resurgence in the Super Cup. They played the vibrant attacking football everyone initially expected from them in the ISL, flooring Real Kashmir and Delhi Dynamos in prolific fashion. The attacking trio of Manuel Lanzarote, Edu Garcia and Balwant Singh worked in tandem to cause destruction up front.
They scampered past Real Kashmir with a decisive 3-1 victory before clutching a 4-3 thrilling win against the Lions. However, they failed to replicate their heroics in the semi-finals against Chennaiyin FC. John Gregory’s men outwitted the Kolkata outfit, with goals from CK Vineeth and Anirudh Thapa crushing ATK’s chances of finishing their season with silverware by eliminating them in the semis.
Lessons to be Learned
After showing little signs of improvement despite having an experienced side, it’s time to go back to the drawing board for ATK. For one, they cannot expect to conjure up a “dream team” and expect top results anymore. Instead of breaking everything down and creating from scratch, they should persist with this current unit with a few additions here and there. The Kolkata outfit also needs better domestic players, especially those who can make a mark up front.
While Jobby Justin’s signing was a statement in itself, they need to focus on improving their wing-play and helping give their Spanish genius some backup in the attack. However, most importantly, ATK needs to find a more experienced coach who can get the results and help get the side playing the incisive attacking football expected from them. Rather than persisting with the failing English philosophy, maybe it’s time to revert to a Spanish or another one in order to get the former Champions back in the podium.
After an abysmal 2017-18 season, when all of us fans were highly depressed, signings of the likes of Kalu Uche, Manuel Lanzarote, Everton Santos had given us a lot of hopes for the new season. Not only the foreign recruits were deadly, but the Indian recruits were seemed to be the best by far, at least on paper. A few questions were raised, when Steve Coppell was announced as the head coach, which were proved right in the very first match against Kerala Blasters, where we lost 0-2 at home, still we had faith in the team. Days passed by, matches passed by, but the team never really seemed to be invincible.
Instead, the defence line continued faltering match after match. With Kalu Uche getting injured after a few games, we lost our main strike power from where we never really recovered. More than that, what I felt was that we lacked a proper CDM who could control the game(Just like Borja Fernandez), which ultimately resulted in lack of possession and creativity in the midfield throughout the season, scoring only 18 goals in 18 matches. However, the inclusion of Edu Garcia in the January transfer window did bolster our attack, but could not save us from finishing 6th in the points table.
We did start our Super Cup campaign in a superb manner, defeating Real Kashmir and Delhi Dynamos in successive games, but ultimately bowed down to Chennayin in the semis. The season has ended, but our hopes and love towards the club haven't. We still believe that ATK will make a comeback, and will win their 3rd title in the next season.
Published: Sun Apr 21, 2019 06:40 PM IST