Habas stresses the importance of Kauko and Boumous ahead of the AFC Cup

ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Antonio Lopez Habas thinks their two new foreign signings Hugo Boumous and Joni Kauko can be crucial to their chances in the upcoming AFC Cup as well as the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) later in the year.

Boumous signed for the Mariners after winning the Hero ISL trophy with Mumbai City FC last season, while Kauko put pen to paper shortly after Finland exited Euro 2020. “I think they are good players. Boumous is a very important player in the [Hero] ISL. Joni Kauko is also an important player for us for he has a good balance between defence and attack. These two foreign players are important for us for the next season,” he said on Wednesday.

ATK Mohun Bagan have made as many as seven signings – Boumous, Kauko, Liston Colaco, Amrinder Singh, Deepak Tangri, Ashutosh Mehta and Bidyananda Singh -- since losing the 2020-21 Hero ISL final to the Islanders in March earlier this year, which means Habas will have to build a new team for the upcoming challenge. “My feeling now is that we have to work every day and prepare the team for the competition. We have to build a new team because we have had a lot of changes in the squad. We are training every day for our best presentation in the matches,” he said.

When asked what they had in mind when they went for the above-mentioned seven names, the Spaniard said: “We have to continue growing … Players come in and go out, so the magic word is balance between one season and another.”

Habas, who led ATK FC to two Hero ISL titles in 2014 and 2019-20, made it clear that he wasn’t eyeing a particular brand of football and that for him the word ‘balance’ is sacrosanct. “Football is not all about attack or defence. It’s the balance. This is the saying. You have to find the balance between attack and defence. It’s the most important thing in football,” he said.

Habas also acknowledged that the Mariners will have to up the ante having failed to win anything – League Shield as well as the Hero ISL trophy -- last season. “Last season ATK Mohun Bagan had the possibility to win. We reached the semi-finals; we reached the final but we didn’t win. So, this season we have to increase our level, our proportion, and this year our target should be to win the league,” he said.

Habas said his team has all the relevant information about their opponents in the AFC Cup. Fellow Hero ISL side Bengaluru FC could join them in Group D (South Zone) if they can win their play-off tie against Club Eagles from the Maldives on August 15. However, the head coach refused to discuss if his team stood a solid chance in the continental club competition. “I don’t know. Can’t say before the competition. We will have to play first. It is not possible for me to give an opinion about the opponents before the competition. I will tell after the competition,” he said.

Habas though admitted that the preparation is not ideal in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, he has no intention to use it as an excuse. “There are no excuses. There is a competition waiting for us in the Maldives. And we have to prepare well,” he said.

“Covid and the circumstances are not good for us but we have no other option. We have to adapt to the competition and the condition.”

Habas also shared an update on star player David Williams, who is yet to join the bunch currently training in Kolkata. “David Williams is coming now, maybe tomorrow. We will have to assess his physical condition,” he said.

In their first match on August 18, ATK Mohun Bagan play the winners of the play-off tie between Bengaluru FC and Club Eagles. In their remaining two group matches, they line up against Maziya Sports & Recreation and Bashundhara Kings on August 21 and August 24 respectively.

 

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