It will be the Spaniard’s second stint with the Kolkata-based outfit.
ATK recently announced Antonio Lopez Habas as their head coach for the next edition of the Indian Super League. This is the second time for the Spaniard at the helm, after having led the Kolkata-based side to the ISL title in the inaugural season of the competition back in 2014 and a semi-final finish in 2015.
The appointment marks the club completing a full circle as they attempt to get back to winning ways in the league, after a run of two highly disappointing campaigns under the leadership of managers like Teddy Sheringham, Ashley Westwood, Robbie Keane and most recently, Steve Coppell. The talk around the club is that re-appointing Habas is perhaps the last throw of the dice for the club and the owners.
Habas expressed his delight at being re-appointed as the head coach by saying, ”I am very proud to be the head coach of ATK. I have always had the feeling that I will be back to train the team. I am sure that with the support of the fans and us working together, we will get the recognition and the results that the club deserves. Success will be achieved when we aspire to compete hard and add to the professional growth of the club. Many thanks to ATK for showing their confidence in me yet again.”
Despite signing some of the best talents around, the club finished a meagre sixth in the final standings in 2018/19. Coppell’s tactics were ineffective and the team clearly lacked any style of play or cohesion. The debacle called for further changes at the managerial level and the ideal step has perhaps been taken by giving the reins of the club back to the Spaniard, who has proven his mettle several times and has invaluable ISL experience.
The 61-year-old left the outfit after the first two seasons in-charge due to disagreements with the club’s top brass. His statement read, “I waited for ATK to call me, but the call never came.” That paved the way for Jose Molina to succeed him as the head coach. FC Pune City pounced on the opportunity and went on to appoint the Spaniard as their head coach on 25 April 2016. However, after a disappointing campaign with the Stallions and ideological differences with the board at the Maharashtra-based club, the tactician left his position after just a year in 2017.
It is a well established fact that Habas has a strong personality and wants the club he is managing to function according to his vision. He wants both hands on the wheel and nothing short of that is passable for the tactician. The move makes sense for both the club and the coach, as on one hand, ATK aspire to be amongst title challengers, on the other the gaffer has a record to set straight in the ISL after the substandard outing with FCPC. The old partnership may just rekindle the lost zeal that both the manager and the club are desperately searching for.
ATK currently have a stagnant team with strong individuals, but one which lacks identity and functionality. When Habas steps in, one of the first steps he must take is to rebuild the foundations of a strong structure at the heart of the squad that brought them success in the early years. While the current group has players who are capable of playing attacking football, the Spaniard will bring in solidity at the back and the signing of a defensive midfielder will help the pieces fall into place.
However, the question remains whether the ATK hierarchy is willing to back the Spanish gaffer unlike what they did last time around? The fact that they have decided to go back to the roots where they enjoyed success under Habas points towards a possible newfound understanding between the manager and the club authorities. The leverage is in Habas’ favour.
Although, with the support from the club, the pressure will be on the former Celta Vigo coach who must translate the backing into immediate success. Indeed, anything but playoffs qualification in the ISL might put his job in jeopardy yet again. This could be his last attempt at redeeming himself in the league. The tactician must prepare early in pre-season to get the players at his disposal playing as a unit, otherwise it could be a long season for them.
The club is clearly looking at this appointment with an eye towards a possible return to the top of the league standings, as ATK’s principle owner Sanjeev Goenka rightly put by saying, “I wish him all the best to carry our two-time championship legacy forward. He is an exceptional manager and I am hopeful Habas will lead the way for ATK with his unique strategies and his enthusiasm.”
If they (the club and Habas) manage to replicate the synergy of the early years of their partnership, then ATK might just become the team to watch beat next season in the ISL.