Veteran Antonio Habas eyeing to set up a tryst with a third title

An astute tactician, an effective strategist, a disciplinarian with the determination to scale new heights; there are many ways one can describe Antonio Lopez Habas, but Hero Indian Super League (ISL) fans require no introduction to the most decorated manager in the tournament’s history.

The Spaniard has lifted two Hero ISL titles with ATK in 2014 and 2019-20 respectively, while also guiding them to a semi-final in 2015 and steering ATK Mohun Bagan to the finals of the league in the last season.

A serial winner in the subcontinent, Habas will be looking to add a third Hero ISL trophy to his cabinet and lay his hands on the League Winners’ Shield, after having narrowly missed out on the latter in the 2020-21 season.

Habas was a defender in his playing days representing clubs like Sevilla, Burgos CF, and Murcia. His journey as a coach began in the early 1990s with Atletico Madrileno, a subsidiary of La Liga giants Atletico Madrid.

In 1993, Habas was appointed the assistant coach of the Bolivian national team and then promoted to the role of head coach in 1995. He led the Andean team to the quarterfinals of the 1995 Copa America and secured the runners-up position in the 1997 edition of the same tournament.

In 2001, he joined the coaching staff of Rafael Benitez, as an assistant at Spanish side Valencia. He was assigned the top role for the same club midway through the 2004-05 season when Claudio Ranieri was sacked.

He was named assistant to Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov at Celta Vigo for the 2007-08 season and was compelled to take up the reins at the club for the final phase of the same season, as they battled relegation.

The Spaniard followed Stoichkov to South Africa, taking up the role of assistant coach at Mamelodi Sundowns F.C in 2009, and succeeded Stoichkov as the manager for Sundowns in 2010-11 South Africa Premier Division. He then managed Bidvest Wits F.C, another South African side, in the 2012-13 season.

Indian football saw the arrival of Habas in the inaugural ISL season, and under his leadership, ATK were crowned the inaugural champions of the competition. He guided them to a semi-final spot in the 2015 season but lost out to eventual champions Chennaiyin FC.

Habas had a stint with Pune City FC in 2016, before returning to ATK in the 2019-20 season. The Spaniard helped his side clinch the ISL trophy, making him the only manager to achieve the feat twice. He was retained at the helm for the 2020-21 season and he turned the Kolkata outfit into one of the most dominant teams in the league, finishing second in the regular season and the semi-final, too.

In recent seasons, Habas has preferred playing a 3-man backline, using his wing-backs to provide width while attacking, which has been an effective combination, as his sides have conceded the least goals in the last two seasons. In the 2020-21 season, ATK Mohun Bagan conceded a mere 19 goals, while scoring 32.

In 2019-20, full-backs Prabir Das and Michael Soosairaj wreaked havoc with their dangerous runs on either flank, adding a new dimension to the ATK side. Although in the sixth edition of the Hero ISL, he preferred the duo of David Williams and Roy Krishna spearheading the attack, Habas was fluid with his attacking combinations in 2020-21, with the introduction of Manvir Singh to the squad.

Habas has been a standout leader, having managed close to 100 games in the Hero ISL that speaks volumes of the faith the club has shown in him.

The gaffer signed a one-year contract extension in March 2021. "I am happy that the officials have kept faith in me and on our technical staff. It will boost our moral strength. Our goal now is to bring success to the club at the international level,” remarked the Spaniard after being retained for another season by the Mariners’ management.

His determined approach to games, coupled with effective tactics and a star-studded squad, can be vital in ATK Mohun Bagan’s performance in the 2021-22 season.

Your Comments