Team Profile: Can a new-look ATK exorcise their past demons?
Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 season kicks off on October 20 and the football-crazy fans of Kolkata will be hoping that ATK can exorcise the demons of the past couple of seasons this term. To recall, in the first three seasons of Hero ISL, ATK reached the semi-finals on all three occasions and clinched the trophy twice. But since then, the Kolkata club, in the last two seasons, have failed to make it into the top four. Armed with a new-look squad and the return of their first successful season’s head coach Antonio Lopez Habas, ATK will look to reclaim their glory days once again.
Here's a brief overview of ATK's chances in Hero ISL 2019-20.
TRANSFERS: INS AND OUTS
ATK only managed 18 goals in Hero ISL 2018-19 - an underwhelming stat which eventually proved detrimental to their season. The management's transfer activities in the summer have been sharply focussed at rectifying the deficiency, with almost a completely revamped frontline. With Everton Santos, Kalu Uche and Manuel Lanzarote departing from the club, a host of new faces have been brought in, including A-League 2018-19 Golden Boot winner Roy Krishna and his strike partner at Wellington Phoenix last season, David Williams. The duo combined to score 29 goals last season. Among the new Indian attackers, Jobby Justin is a household name for Kolkata fans, having been the highest Indian goal scorer in Hero I-League 2018-19 while playing for East Bengal last season.
With the enigmatic Edu Garcia having been retained, the acquisition of Spanish midfielder Javier Hernandez, former Jamshedpur FC ace Michael Soosairaj will also add creativity and goals from midfield, to aid the forwards. Hard-tackling defensive midfielder Sehnaj Singh has also arrived from Mumbai City FC to add some steel in the middle of the park alongside Pronay Halder. Irishman Carl McHugh, who signed from Scottish club Motherwell, will also add a lot of versatility to the squad with his ability to play both in defence and midfield.
John Johnson and Pritam Kotal are set to return with ATK this season and will be joined by veteran India international Anas Edathodika and Spanish defender Agustin Garcia to bolster the backline. Former Kerala Blasters custodian Dheeraj Singh has also been roped in to compete with Arindam Bhattacharya for the position of the first-choice goalkeeper in the team.
AT THE HELM
Sometimes to move forward, you need to take a step back and that seems to be ATK's policy going into the Hero ISL 2019-20 season. With Steve Coppell moving on, the club has opted to bring back Spanish head coach Antonio Lopez Habas to guide the team. Habas is no stranger to the Hero ISL, having led ATK to the inaugural Hero ISL trophy back in 2014 and then guiding them to the semi-finals in 2015. The Spaniard is known for his highly pragmatic approach and his ability to make his teams grind out results even when the squad isn't performing at its best will be a big plus for the team.
On paper, ATK’s attack looks like a formidable unit. In Roy Krishna, David Williams and Jobby Justin, Antonio Lopez Habas possess three proven goal scorers in the side to lead the line. Balwant Singh will also provide ample backup to the offence with his experience and versatility on the pitch. With Soosairaj, Komal Thatal, Jayesh Rane as options in the wide areas and Garcia and Hernandez more than capable of creating and scoring goals from advanced positions in the middle of the park, ATK possess enough threat in the squad to worry any defence.
AREAS OF CONCERN
Despite disappointing in the previous two seasons, ATK's squads, on paper, were star-studded ones, much like this season. The major concern for the team in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns was the lack of team chemistry. Going into Hero ISL 2019-20 with a revamped squad and possibly a new core, the same concern will be at the back of everyone's mind. The speed at which Habas can put all his pieces in place can prove to be the difference between failure and success. The Hero ISL's busy structure gives teams barely any headroom for a slow start and bouncing back from a string of poor results becomes an uphill task to say the least.
GOALKEEPERS: Arindam Bhattacharya, Dheeraj Singh, Lara Sharma
DEFENDERS: Agustin Garcia Iniguiz, Anas Edathodika, Ankit Mukherjee, John Johnson, Prabir Das, Pritam Kotal, Anil Chawan, Sumit Rathi
MIDFIELDERS: Carl McHugh, Eduardo Garcia, Javier Hernandez, Komal Thatal, Michael Soosairaj, Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh
FORWARDS: Balwant Singh, David Williams, Jobby Justin, Roy Krishna, Jayesh Rane