ATK gear up for title reign with bolstered frontline and reliable defence
The most successful club in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) by a long shot has to be ATK. The Kolkata-based outfit have been crowned champions twice and are the only side to reach the semi-finals stage in all three seasons. Consistent as they have been, it would be fair to say that they haven’t always demonstrated the ruthlessness of champions while attacking. Defence has been their forte through and through and they have often gnawed out important results solely on their defensive resilience.
The first season saw them book their passage into the semi-finals on the back of their defensive solidity. They made it to the final that year after beating FC Goa on penalties with nothing to separate the sides over the course of the two legs. Mohammed Rafique’s late header against Kerala Blasters FC in the final then ensured that ATK will always go down in the history books as Hero ISL first champions.
The second season witnessed ATK up the ante in attack. With Iain Hume’s strike power now in their arsenal, they managed seven victories in the league phase to qualify as the second-placed team in the table. The semi-finals though ended in defeat against eventual champions that year Chennaiyin FC. The southerners got the better of ATK with a 4-2 aggregate victory that quashed Kolkata’s title defence hopes.
ATK last year adopted a similar strategy to that of the inaugural season as they qualified for the semis for a third consecutive campaign. They displayed both their attacking and defensive prowess in the semi-finals by opening up Hero ISL 2016’s best defence Mumbai City FC in the first leg at Kolkata before defending astutely for a goalless draw in Mumbai. They again faced Kerala Blasters in the final at Kochi and compounded the misery on the men in yellow with a penalty shootout win.
The upcoming season will see ATK take to the field with the target of defending champions on their back. And while they may have lost some key personnel from previous years, exciting new additions in all departments will make ATK a formidable opposition as always.
Jordi Figueras Montel comes with experience of playing in the La Liga and will be a solid presence at centre-back. He will be joined by former Manchester United academy graduate Tom Thorpe. Thorpe has captained England in the under-19 level and will look to marshal ATK’s backline. Joining them from the domestic front will be robust centre-back Anwar Ali. Having plied his trade for a number of big guns in Indian football, Ali was a key member of the impeccable Mumbai City defence last year. Left-back Nallappan Mohanraj is not an unfamiliar face with fans and the pacey defender, who had played and scored a goal for ATK in the second season makes a return after representing Chennai last year. ATK have also retained the immensely talented Prabir Das who impressed last season with his strong defending and his lung-bursting runs from right back. Ashutosh Mehta is another defender with loads of potential and the 26-year-old will be looking for more silverware having been a part of Aizawl FC’s Hero I-League-winning squad earlier this year.
The ATK midfield features two Englishmen who have been teammates at Coventry City. Conor Thomas has already amassed more than a century of appearances for the club, while Carl Baker, apart from boasting the same record, had begun his youth career with Liverpool FC. Portuguese playmaker Jose Egas dos Santos Branco, better known as Zequinha, has played most of his life in Portugal and the 30-year-old will want to make his experience count on Indian soil. ATK also splurged the cash on one of the best midfielders in the country, Eugeneson Lyngdoh. The former FC Pune City man is a proven scorer as well as provider and offers immense depth in the middle of the park. Fellow central midfielder Darren Caldeira has plied his trade for Bengaluru FC in the I-League and will provide useful support to Lyngdoh. Caldeira’s former Bengaluru FC teammate Shankar Sampingraj also makes the move, and having been a part of Kerala Blasters in the past, will be no stranger to the ISL.
With Iain Hume returning to Kerala, ATK have turned to Irish legend Robbie Keane to spearhead their attack. Keane’s accolades include being Republic of Ireland’s record goal-scorer, former captain, most-capped player as well as Tottenham Hotspur legend. Joining him is the experienced Finnish striker Njazi Kuqi, who has represented quite a few English clubs in the past. The strong and burly Robin Singh is already one of India’s more reputed strikers and his physical presence in attack gives ATK a different dynamic up front. Jayesh Rane also makes the switch to Kolkata from Chennaiyin FC having played all the previous seasons with them. A winner with Aizawl in the I-League, his inclusion is certain to inject pace and energy in attack.
Former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur legend Teddy Sheringham joins as the head coach of ATK. Having won trophies like the UEFA Champions League, Sheringham knows how to deal with pressure situations and as a former striker himself, will surely bring sharpness to the ATK’s frontline. He will be helped by Bengaluru’s former two-time I-league winning coach Ashley Westwood, who joins as technical director.
Player to watch out for:
While there have been some mouth-watering recruits, there will be a lot of expectations on Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who became the joint most expensive player in the pre-season draft. Lyngdoh, although a late bloomer, is nimble-footed, and accurate with his passes besides being clinical in front of goal. Having delivered the goods more often than not for club and country, his influence in midfield will be key to ATK’s success in the coming campaign.
The defending champions are on a roll with a strong pre-season to brag about so far. After an unblemished record in Dubai, the club maintained their form on home soil.
With a longer and more competitive season ahead, it is going to be no easy task for ATK as defending champions. But they have overcome bigger adversaries in the past and the club looks in good shape. The players they currently possess gives them every chance of being the first team to successfully defend the ISL title.
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Kunzang Bhutia
Defenders: Anwar Ali, Ashutosh Mehta, Augustin Melwyn Fernandes, Jordi Figueras Montel, Keegan Pereira, Nallappan Mohanraj, Prabir Das, Tom Joseph Thorpe
Midfielders: Bipin Singh, Carl Paul Baker, Conor Thomas, Darren Caldeira, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Hitesh Sharma, Jose Egas Dos Santos Branco, Ronald Singh, Rupert Lamlang Nongrum, Shankar Sampingraj
Forwards: Jayesh Dilip Rane, Njazi Kuqi, Robert Keane, Robin Singh