More sensible signings should pave the way to more on-field success for the Kolkata outfit this season.
For ATK, making a marquee signing to show off their financial muscle almost seemed like a necessity. Over the past few seasons, they signed some unnecessary, washed-up stars in a bid to almost try to prove themselves to be “superior” than the other sides in the Indian Super League (ISL). But, it seems like the logical heads have finally prevailed for the Red and White striped outfit and ATK have been extremely clever with their signings this season. Rather than retaining the much-expensive Robbie Keane or trying to get an equally popular star, ATK have now used their finances well to sign multiple talented foreigners who impressed with their work in the ISL last campaign.
ATK had developed an obsession with bringing in former European stars to help prove how more attractive they are than anyone else in the ISL, but their failures last season seem to have been a wake-up call for them. The former ISL champions might have won the title twice, but not even once has their “marquee signing” been the leading star they had hoped him to be.
Luis Garcia was brought out to retirement in the inaugural season and was barely even used much, as he came on from the bench and looked really underwhelming in the difficult conditions. He only scored two goals and looked like a broken shell of his old self, who used to terrorize defences in Europe. The same can be said for Helder Postiga, who unfortunately injured himself after a terrific debut against Chennaiyin FC and missed the rest of the term.
Helder Postiga proved to be a disappointment for ATK
Postiga did not have much of an impact in his second season either, scoring only two goals in 11 appearances. The striker also looked unfit and wasteful in front of goal, however, ATK luckily rode on the brilliance of Iain Hume to secure their second ISL title that season. Keane’s story threatened to be a similar one to Postiga, but he showed impressive ability to recover, only to come back when things had already started to fall apart for the team. Three wins in 10 games got coach Teddy Sheringham sacked and Keane’s six goals in nine games, which mostly came against weaker opposition, did absolutely nothing to save ATK from a ninth-placed finish.
However, It seems like a horrendous season last time out gave ATK much to ponder upon about their decisions and they started working early to make sure this season would be no repeat of the last. They roped in Sanjoy Sen, who left his post as Mohun Bagan head coach and appointed him in the role of youth development. Sen was instrumental in using his reputation to sign some of the top local players from East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the likes of Sheikh Faiaz, Cavin Lobo, Arnab Mondal, Ricky Lallawmawma. He also brought in Pronoy Halder and Avilash Paul thanks to his strong connections with the players.
With the side lacking a proper coach former Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC gaffer Steve Coppell was given the job to steady the ship before the season kicked-off. Coppell, who is known for his cautious, defensive method, surprised many by making some clever signings. ATK brought in the likes of Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche and Everton Santos who had all impressed for their respective sides in the ISL last season.
Coppell also made some great defensive signings, getting in Bengaluru defensive general John Johnson and the resurgent Andre Bikey from Jamshedpur FC. These signings proved how ATK had put their superiority complex to the side and added some much-needed experience in their midst. Almost all their foreign signings have a lot of experience of playing well in the ISL and can lead ATK to a lot of success this season. The complete overhaul of the squad has not seen many marquee signings being made, but how ATK have discreetly created such a solid squad can play perfectly well for them.
Apart from the foreigners, their domestic core speaks for itself, with the likes of Pronay Halder, Balwant Singh, Arnab Mondal, Sena Ralte and Cavin Lobo all bringing in huge quality with them. There’s also a whiff of youthful exuberance with the likes of Komal Thatal, Hitesh Sharma, Malsawmzuala and Jayesh Rane all expected to play important roles as part of the squad. The local signings will also thrive, with the likes of Faiaz, Ricky and Halder all being extremely comfortable with the pressure of playing at the Salt Lake Stadium having played in it so many times over the years.
ATK seems to have finally gotten over their obsessiveness at getting a marquee player who can light up the Salt Lake Stadium and their economical signings this time look easily capable of doing so. Things are looking much brighter for the former ISL champions this time and if Coppell could quickly insert his winning mentality into the squad, ATK could claw their way back into the ISL title race this season.