ATK had a forgettable campaign in the Indian Super League (ISL) last year. Coming into the season as the defending champions, with experienced marquee player Robbie Keane in the side, and former Manchester United forward Teddy Sheringham leading the charge, the football franchise from Kolkata appeared to be a strong unit. But then came the reality check.
With the side continuing to underperform, Sheringham was quickly replaced by Ashley Westwood, who was sacked too later on, only for Keane, who looked far from his best on the field, to take on coaching responsibilities full time by the end of the season. ATK failed to qualify for the playoffs. In fact, they finished in the 9th position out of 10 teams.
But that was then, and this is now – in a span of few months, things have changed a lot for ATK; maybe even their fortunes. Former Jamshedpur FC coach Steve Coppell has agreed to take on coaching duties for the franchise this season. Coppell is an experienced manager in the tournament – under his guidance, Kerala Blasters managed to reach the final in 2016. The former Crystal Palace manager also almost took Jamshedpur to the playoffs last season.
If ATK have to fix things, Coppell is the guy they need. He has already announced the holes he is looking to fix – the first of which is to bring stability in the squad. “Looking at the ISL, continuity is an advantage. Continuity in terms of the coach, continuity in terms of players. The top four teams from last year will again be strong. Chennaiyin, Bengaluru FC and Pune City will be strong. We have to rebuild ATK and aim for the top end of the table, the elite end. To make it there, we have to be effective,” the 63-year-old said at a press conference last week.
Changing guard at the helm is not the only order of business ATK have done this season. The club has wrought in major squad revamp. The franchise has retained only seven players from last season and has made 20 new signings, which comprise of seven foreign players and 13 Indian players. This time, instead of targeting marquee players, the club has gone after experienced ISL campaigners – including former Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson, former Delhi Dynamos forward Kalu Uche who was the third highest goal scorer last season and former FC Goa dynamic left winger Manuel Lanzarote. Add former Mumbai FC City forward Everton Santos to the hat and that is a serious looking forward line-up right there.
Among home players, the club has acquired the services of some of the popular members from India’s international squad including forward Balwant Singh, defender Pronay Halder and Arnab Mondal and attacking midfielder Cavin Lobo.
Coppell believes he has achieved balance in the squad. “I don’t design teams to be defensive. For the last two years, I might not have had those players that could give that something extra in the final third. This time we have Manuel Lanzarote, Everton Santos, Kalu Uche and Balwant Singh who could do that with the ball. It is all about balance in the team,” he said at the press conference.
The primary concern for the club will be to sort out issues with their full-backs. Prabir Das recently suffered a knee injury during the preseason and it remains unclear when the defender will be able to return to the field. Another concern for the club would be that Coppell has garnered a reputation for being a bit defensive in his approach. With a strong forward lineup, the new coach would not want the attackers to be left isolated in the game, and create no impact.
ATK Full Squad:
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Arindam Bhattacharya, Avilash Paul
Defenders: Aiborlang Khongjee, Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Arnab Mondal, Ricky Lallawmawma, Sena Ralte, André Bikey, Prabir Das
Midfielders: Hitesh Sharma, Pronay Halder, Sheikh Faiaz, Malsawmzuala, Yumnam Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Komal Thatal, Manuel Lanzarote, Cavin Lobo, Noussair El Maimouni
Strikers: Kalu Uche, Balwant Singh, Everton Santos, Jayesh Rane
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