Special Hero ISL 2019-20 in the offing for new-look ATK?
Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 saw ATK fail to make it to the semi-finals for the second season in a row. After finishing 9th in the 2017-18 campaign, ATK went around cherrypicking the best talent available in a bid to secure their third Hero ISL title, but it didn't quite translate into the grand results everyone was hoping for.
Despite boasting one of the strongest squads in the league featuring the likes of John Johnson, Manuel Lanzarote, Everton Santos, Kalu Uche, among others, the lack of cohesion between the players was visible on the field as the team struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities. Although dented by a few injury setbacks, many would argue that the sheer star power in the team warranted more than the measly six victories and sixth-place finish they could muster during the course of the 2018-19 season.
Under the stewardship of Stephen Coppell, the Kolkata-based side failed to deliver what was expected of them. Although the team did improve defensively over the course of the season, their attack suffered despite the wealth of attacking talents in the squad. ATK scored only 18 goals over the course of the campaign - second-lowest alongside ninth-placed Kerala Blasters FC. Only Chennaiyin FC (16) scored lesser last season. In the opposition third, ATK looked clueless with most of their predictable goalmouth ventures coming through the middle.
With redemption and the 2019-20 season in mind, ATK's move to bring back Antonio Lopez Habas as the head coach is a positive sign indeed. Having led the club to the title in the inaugural season, the Spaniard knows what it takes to get the job done. Like Coppell, Habas, too, likes to keep the team defensively well-organized but his Spanish root also enables him to be a lot more creative going forward. Habas likes to stretch the play while attacking, which will suit players like Lanzarote, Edu Garcia and others. Lanzarote, given more support, can surely better his 7-goal contribution from last season and can be a huge asset as the club looks to become the first team to win three Hero ISL titles.
Reinforcements in the offensive department have come in the form of Fiji national team captain Roy Krishna, former Jamshedpur FC winger Michael Soosairaj and his brother, former Chennai City FC midfielder Regin Michael. Krishna's acquisition, in particular, is a high profile one considering the Fijian won both the Golden Boot and the MVP awards in the highly-competitive A-League while playing for Wellington Phoenix last season. Krishna comes with an incredible pedigree and is a proven goal scorer both for club and country. His addition will surely add a new dimension to ATK's offensive repertoire. The team is also reportedly in talks with Krishna's former strike partner at Wellington, David Williams, and if the move transpires, it will only add to ATK's offensive threat.
Defensively, ATK’s showing was pretty respectable last season and Habas will look to build on it with the addition of former Motherwell FC player Carl McHugh.
However, if there was a lesson to be learned from ATK's last two seasons, it was that irrespective of how strong the squad looks on paper, establishing proper team chemistry is paramount to achieve success in the Hero ISL. With the host of new faces on the block, it remains to be seen if ATK are getting drawn into the 'complete rebuild' rabbit hole yet again. Habas' role here will be crucial and much of ATK's fortunes will depend on the Spanish gaffer's ability to make a team out of individual stars within a very short duration of time. On a positive note, the Spaniard has proven that he is perfectly capable of doing it in the past.
It's still early days, but as things are shaping up, ATK fans can look forward to a positive season and maybe even a special one.