Eyeing a treble in 2021-22, Amrinder reveals lure of historic fanbase led to his joining ATK Mohun Bagan

It came as a surprise to many when late last month star custodian Amrinder Singh joined ATK Mohun Bagan from 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions Mumbai City FC. Amrinder had a stellar season with the Islanders and no two ways about it, played a big role in their claiming the League Shield as well as the prestigious trophy. The 27-year-old, who signed a five-year contract with the Mariners, is reuniting with Antonio Lopez Habas under whom he played in the Hero ISL in 2015. Upon his return from India’s remaining three matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers where Gurpreet Singh Sandhu stood in goal for Igor Stimac’s men, Amrinder spoke to indiansuperleague.com and discussed a variety of subjects, from his move to the Kolkata giants, to his ambitions at new club, to his impending rivalry with another star goalkeeper Arindam Bhattacharja, to his recent role in the Indian team, among many others. Here is the interview in full.  

The move to ATK Mohun Bagan did surprise some of your fans and supporters, considering you had a great season with Mumbai City FC. What caused this move?

As you rightly said, we had a great season at Mumbai, and I have personally had a few great years leading the club. ATK Mohun Bagan [then ATK FC] was a club that I was associated with briefly earlier too, and I have fond memories of my work with the coach [Habas]. When the proposal from ATK Mohun Bagan came in, the lure of playing in front of this massive historic fanbase in Kolkata was too much. The club and the owners have the ambition to be the best in Asia and I want to lead the club in this direction!

What are your expectations or targets at ATKMB?

When you are at a club like ATKMB, the targets are always going to be… perform at the highest level. Starting with the AFC Cup games in August, our aim is to win all the competitions we are part of. With Mumbai, I won the Double last season with the Shield and the Hero ISL trophy; with ATKMB my aim is to win the Treble of Shield, Hero ISL trophy and the AFC Cup.

People are quite surprised to see two great goalkeepers of the last season of the Hero ISL in same squad. There will definitely be competition between you and Arindam within the team. Is this going to be a big challenge for you?

Arindam is a great goalkeeper and his experience in Indian football is something very few other players can match. And in the last few seasons, he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league. It is true that only one goalkeeper can play in a match, and it shows the ambition of ATKMB when they want two high quality goalkeepers to compete for one spot. It will be a big challenge for me, and I am sure I will prove myself in every training session to make the goalkeeper spot mine.

You were there in ATK FC squad six years ago under Habas and played under Sergio Lobera at MCFC. What are the basic differences in their way of coaching? Their attitude, behavior towards players, gameplan, way of teaching, accessibility et cetera, et cetera… 

Both Sergio Lobera and Antonio Lopez Habas are very experienced in the Hero ISL now, and the common feature to both is that they want to win every single time. I think this is something I relate to as a player, and that's why I regard both of these coaches very highly. They know exactly what gameplan and style of play is going to suit their teams, and they recruit Indian and foreign players as per this. Indian players too love to play for these two great coaches, and I look forward to our matches against Sergio's teams in the future.

As you know, Kolkata is too emotional about football where goalkeepers often become hero and villains easily to club supporters. Do you think this will increase pressure on the goalkeepers playing for the Kolkata giants?

There will always be pressure on goalkeepers in any football match, because matches are often decided based on one mistake or save made by us. I have played in Kolkata a lot of times, in my matches for Mumbai City FC, Bengaluru FC and Pune FC. And one thing I am certain of is that the performance of all the players at ATKMB is going to be elevated with our fans backing us in the crowd. We can't wait to come play in front of these fans, and this will be a special feeling for any player.

As you have been playing in the Hero ISL for long, how valuable do you think the league is to Indian football?

I think the Hero ISL has definitely helped accelerate the growth of Indian football. There has been a change in the way matches are conducted and broadcast, and also a big change in the quality of coaching and foreign players coming in the Hero ISL. Indian players have been able to learn from these experienced players and coaches, and you can see the gradual change in quality over the years. There is still a lot of work to be done but with the exposure to the youth teams and also engagement with fans, you can see Hero ISL is taking the game in the right direction.

Recently, it has been decided that the number of Indian players will be increased to seven in the field of play. What do you have to say about this decision? 

I am very happy with this decision regarding four foreign players in the Starting XI. This gives the Indian players more chance, to play in important central positions too. The national team players are already getting good game time in the Hero ISL but with this rule we are going to see a lot more quality Indian players coming up and competing for important positions.

How important is the AFC Cup in terms of player development and how far can ATKMB go in the competition?

Our AFC Cup matches in August are going to be very important. We feel we have a very real chance to qualify from the group and go forward in the competition. I have played a part in Bengaluru FC's AFC Cup games too, and we were able to reach the final then [in 2016]. With ATKMB, I will definitely aim to win the tournament. It will be key for our Indian players too because they get good amount of game time against quality opposition, and we are also preparing for the 2021-22 Hero ISL season this way.

Disappointed not to have featured in any of the three games for India recently? Also, are you happy with the way the team played?

With the national team, I feel privileged to be a part of the team that represents the country. Even if I am not in the Starting XI, my role as part of the squad in training and during matches in equally important. I feel all the members of the squad are equal contributors towards the results. Of course, my ambition is to be in the Starting XI, and at the moment I can only work hard at my club and in training to achieve this. I have very heathy competition with Gurpreet and the others, and it is always important to have this at any club or national team. The team under coach Stimac played in a very effective way, and we have now achieved qualification for the third round. All the players are coming off a difficult season and with the Covid restrictions we had to really put in a lot of work to reach the level expected from us.

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