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Why Antonio Habas’ return is the last throw of the dice for ATK

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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The Kolkata outfit has experienced two back to back disappointing seasons since they last won the title.

In order to fix a grave scenario, going back to the roots is often a wise choice. Desperate times have called for desperate measures at ATK, who recently reappointed Spanish coach Antonio Habas to be their coach for the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) season. The Spaniard, a godfather to their success, helped them win the inaugural edition of the competition and lay the groundwork for their initial dominance.

However, some problems in the corresponding second season forced them to part ways. After parting with Atletico Madrid two years ago, the Sanjeev Goenka owned side decided to oversee a change in philosophy. Former Manchester United legends Teddy Sheringham and then Steve Coppell were brought onboard to glitter up the side with their “winning” mentality.

What had seemed like a fairytale turned into two nightmarish seasons. In their most recent campaign, they played some dreadful football under Coppell and ended the season with the lowest goal tally among all the teams. Despite having spent heavily on attaining a fantasy dream-team, the lack of chemistry, flawed tactics and internal issues plagued the Kolkata side.

Now having seen the English experiment bring disasterous results, Sanjeev Goenka and co are redoing things from scratch.  Bringing back the effective Spanish style can definitely reap rewards for ATK, who have some talented Spaniards in their side. Captain Manuel Lanzarote can work wonders under Habas’ system, which will allow him to be his side’s creative lynchpin.

Lanzarote and Edu Garcia can probably compose themselves as ATK’s attacking core without the protective Steve Coppell holding them back. Even domestic talents like Jayesh Rane, Komal Thatal and Balwant Singh were part of some vehement experimentation throughout last season. Eugueneson Lyngdoh could also work wonders in a more possession-based, Spanish system thanks to his experience.

However, like in the last few seasons, ATK cannot afford to create their squad without consulting their head coach. A successful squad can only be successful if it’s shaped according to the head coach’s vision. They’ll need to bring in players who are suited to the Spaniard’s effective system and sideline those deemed unnecessary. Proper planning needs to be implemented to get results.

If last season proved anything, Goenka’s tactic of signing the best available players in various positions doesn’t work out. Unless players who can compliment each other and work to each other’s strengths are brought in, the result will be the same. They cannot go scrapping a failed unit, bring another wholly new one and then expect rewards to pour through instantly. Patience is a virtue ATK desperately need to understand right now.

There is not much far ATK can go from this point onwards. They’ve tried everything in the past years to continue their diminishing dominance. The winning mentality they ushered in the initial years just isn’t there. In the midst of keeping a bright public image and making signings which would be profitable for the club’s commercial success, they lost their way. Once the best in Kolkata football, they’re now in danger of becoming a forgotten side.




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They have their work cut out with a head coach not short of controversy in Indian Football. However, at least he knows how to grind out victories and ATK are setting up their teams to benefit from that mentality. If the last season proved anything, they already have a strong defence which needs a few reinforcements to become impenetrable. Michael Soosairaj and Jobby Justin’s signings are to provide that missing spark which held them back from getting amongst the goals more often.

However,  ATK needs to further solidify their defence to sustain the pressure next season. John Johnson needs an appropriate partner who can work to his advantage. A more complete central midfielder is also needed to allow Pronay  Halder to focus on his defensive side. Moreover, ATK also needs to start planning on pre-season beforehand. They need to face competitive sides and not just show off by travelling to luxurious locations.

Failure beyond Habas could permanently stain their reputation as ISL giants. They’ve fallen hard from the pinnacle in recent years, with the change in philosophy almost ruining their reputation. The fans have started turning on the management for their poor decisions and growing tired of the underachieving nature. Inability to make the playoffs or more next season could create a mockery of their reputation and stain their legacy as ISL’s one of the most successful outfits in recent years.

Published: Mon May 13, 2019 04:20 PM IST

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