With the Indian Super League season almost upon us Khel Now introduces each of the eight teams, in this edition we look at the Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise, Atletico De Kolkata…
Last season’s performance: Semi-finalists
The champions of the inaugural edition of the ISL finished semi-finalists last season losing to Chennaiyin FC 4-2 on aggregate. Atletico De Kolkata were without the services of their marquee player Helder Postiga last season post the first match where he opened with a brace against Chennaiyin FC, but a hamstring injury ruled him out of the rest of the season.
Former Villarreal and Kitchee FC’s Spanish manager Jose Francisco Molina will be at the helm of Atletico De Kolkata after former manager Antonio Lopez Habas switched sides to FC Pune City this season.
Molina has an outstanding profile as a custodian winning the La Liga and Copa Del Rey titles with Atletico de Madrid in their famous 1995-96 season before joining Deportivo La Coruna with whom he once again lifted the Copa Del Rey trophy. He was also awarded the Best Goalkeeper for the lowest goals to games ratio in La Liga back in 1996. He made nine appearances for the Spanish national team and was part of the squad for the 1998 FIFA World Cup and two European Championships in 1996 and 2000.
Molina was diagnosed with testicular cancer during his stint with Deportivo and after undergoing an operation, the goalkeeper suffered from a recurrence which forced him to temporarily retire. However, he made a miraculous recovery to re-join his first-team football.
As a manager Molina had successful stints with Villarreal ‘C’ and ‘B’ teams. He also coached the Getafe B side and recently also worked with Kitchee FC in Hong Kong.
Interestingly last season with Kitchee, he faced East Bengal twice in the AFC Cup with the games ending in draws 2-2 (Home) and 1-1 (Away).
The Red and White brigade have made a lot of changes to their squad from the last two seasons, especially stressing on the local Indian talents who have played for the two Kolkata giants, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. They have retained the services of a few foreigners along with marquee Postiga.
Transfers In: ATK have availed the services of 11 new Indian players who themselves are seasoned campaigners. They have been playing for the two Kolkata giants for the last 2-3 years and are well-versed with the conditions. ATK have been successful in acquiring the services of goalkeeping duo Debjit Majumader and Shilton Paul who played for Mumbai City FC and Chennaiyin FC respectively last season, defender Pritam Kotal from FC Pune City as well as Kingshuk Debnath from Mumbai City FC who donned ATK colours in the inaugural edition. In the midfield, Prabir Das from Delhi Dynamos FC and Bikramjit Singh from FC Goa have shifted their destination.
Bikash Jairu, Lalrindika Ralte, Arnab Mondal (retained), Robert and Abinash Ruidas will don the Red and White colours this season. Jairu played for FC Pune City last season while Dika was with Mumbai City FC and Robert was with Delhi Dynamos. But, for youngster Ruidas this is his inaugural ISL campaign and he would definitely want to make a mark in the U-23 quota. However, for that Abinash has to make a place in the playing XI and he would have to compete with the promising youngster from Manipur, Bidyananda Singh who had a successful stint with the FC Barcelona academy. On the other hand, Jewel Raja has been retained and Keegan Pereira has come on loan from Bengaluru FC.
ATK have roped in 37-year old Spanish custodian Dani Mallo , who has previously played for Deportivo La Coruna in the Segunda Division before moving to Portuguese club Braga and representing them in the UEFA Cup.
Spanish defender Tiri has been retained along with Iain Hume , marquee player Helder Postiga, Sameehg Doutie , Javi Lara , Ofentse Nato and Borja Fernandez . ATK officials and team management pulled off a coup this time around signing Stephen Pearson who played for the Kerala Blasters in the inaugural season with Hume as the duo played an emphatic role in Blasters’ success. Along with them, the Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise has roped in Spanish centre-back Pablo Gallardo who played for the Spain U-19 side and striker Juan Belencoso who will partner Hume and Postiga upfront.
Transfers Out: Quite a few of the players who formed the backbone of the squad last season, left for greener pastures at the end of the previous campaign. Some of them shifted to other franchises while some are still in search of clubs.
Rahim Nabi, Clifford Miranda, Kunzang Bhutia, Nadong Bhutia and Sushil Kumar Singh are still in search for clubs while, Baljit Sahni and N. Mohanraj have joined the MS Dhoni and Abhishek Bachchan co-owned franchise Chennaiyin FC. ATK will truly miss the services of custodian Amrinder Singh who played a key role in them reaching the semi-finals last season. He was exceptional under the bars. The team management wanted to retain him but the keeper from Punjab decided to switch colours and play for Mumbai City FC with his Bengaluru FC teammates Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. ATK’s sensation in midfield and unsung hero in defense, Arata Izumi and Augustine Fernandes joined hands with Habas at FC Pune City while the scorer of ATK’s championship winning goal in the inaugural season Md. Rafique will don the yellow colours of Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters with Rino Anto. Denzil Franco who played a crucial part in ATK’s triumph in the opening campaign will be a member of the Gaur brigade at FC Goa. The Goan right-back could not play many games last season due to injury.
The Red and White army have released Spanish custodian Juan Calatayud and defender Josemi who played an integral part in ATK’s triumph in the opening season with other players in the likes of Jaime Gavilan, Jorge Alonso, Valdo and Dejan Lekic who came in as a replacement for the injured Postiga last year.
Formation and Tactics
In the last two editions of the Hero ISL it has been apparent that most managers preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation in almost all matches, except Brazilian legend Zico who plays the 3-5-2 diamond formation for FC Goa.
Former ATK manager Habas preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation for his side stressing more on defense than the attack.
With the team returning from their pre-season training just a few days back it is learned that new manager Jose Molina applied the same tactics and formation which Habas used for his side in pre-season training.
If Molina uses this formation in the matches, then it is quite certain that Debjit Majumder will start under the bars with Pritam Kotal, Pablo, Arnab Mondal and Tiri controlling the defense. To support the defenders there would be two holding midfielders in the likes of BIkramjit Singh and Nato or Javi Lara. Sameehg Doutie with Bikash Jairu or Dika will start on the flanks and will interchange positions regularly while Hume will play as a withdrawn forward behind Postiga who would be leading the line.
Player to Watch: Helder Postiga
The former Portugal international excited many fans after signing for ATK last year and hit the ground running with a brace against Chennaiyin FC. However, his season was cut short due to injury and he could play no further part in the remainder of the campaign. The former Porto and Valencia man returns to the City of Joy with a point to prove and he will want to provide some joy to the football mad ATK fans.
With a new manager at the helm and several new faces it would perhaps be a bit too much to expect a title challenge from Atletico De Kolkata in this campaign, as it could be a transitional year for them. They missed quite a few players in pre-season training in Madrid due to their Calcutta Football League duties. It would be interesting to see how Molina unites the team in a short span of time. However anything lower than a top four finish would be difficult to stomach for the Red and White brigade. But, if we look at the fans’ perspective, they would expect their favourite club to be crowned champions once again.
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Despite missing their marquee acquisition for most of the last campaign the Kolkaka side acquainted themselves remarkably well scoring a total of 28 goals in the tournament. They were more dominant at home than on the road, scoring 16 and conceding just 9, while they scored 12 and shipped an equal number away.
Editorial by Khel Now Correspondent Rony. Sports passionate and content writer. He is big football and cricket fan.