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ISL ‘poaching’ saga: ATK Mohun Bagan’s audacious move leaves Goa reeling

The drama over the weekend shows release clauses have become a reality of Indian football and they aren't just for the players

Written by Shashank Nair | New Delhi |
December 20, 2021 12:55:41 pm
isl coachesAntonio Habas quit his post and Mohun Bagan then triggered the release clause of FC Goa's Juan Ferrando. (File/ISL)

The Indian Super league witnessed a coaching merry-go-round of sorts with ATK Mohun Bagan’s mercurial Antonio Habas quitting his post. Bagan then triggered the release clause of FC Goa’s Juan Ferrando and took his assistant Javi Hernandez in the process as well.

Antonio Habas is the ISL’s most successful coach. The Spaniard is known to be a pragmatic boss who prefers his teams to score first and then keep the scoreline to that. But this season, Habas’ team was unlike any he has managed in the ISL: 13 goals scored and 13 goals conceded in six matches.

Bagan started this season on the highest of notes. They were playing positionally fluid football with a five-man backline where the wingbacks would stay in the middle of the park and were flexible in their role.

The change in style augmented some great results at the start of the season. Results that made it seem as if Bagan were title contenders. Then Mumbai City FC happened. Coming into the game, Mumbai were not in the best of form and it seemed like Bagan could have pulled off the win.

But somehow everything about their new style of play combusted in spectacular fashion and the Kolkata club crashed to a 5-0 defeat. Since then, ATKMB have tasted defeat against Jamshedpur and drew 3-3 against Bengaluru FC.

Habas was realistic in his assessment. “We have to recover immediately to go to the playoffs. If we don’t recover our identity, our idea, our proposal of play, it’s impossible,” said Habas.

The impassioned plea to his players didn’t work and eventually, the most successful manager in the short frame of the ISL was out of the door.

But Habas’ departure led to an unexpected chain reaction. In order to quickly identify a successor and still remain competitive, Bagan approached FC Goa’s Juan Ferrando. Ferrando’s career in the ISL also began in ignominious circumstances. At that point in time, Goa were going through a period where they were showing excellent football on the pitch and the results to back it up under Sergio Lobera. But for reasons that remain unexplained to this date, Goa terminated Lobera’s contract right before their ISL playoffs were set to begin and hired Ferrando. The following season, they ended up losing the core of their squad to Mumbai City FC.

But Ferrando continued and in some aspects, improved Lobera’s idea of what the Goan team should be like. His team went on a 15-match unbeaten run. In an Indian club’s maiden campaign in the AFC Champions League, Goa did well to play against heavyweights like Persepolis and Al Rayyan. They held Al Rayyan, coached by Laurent Blanc, to a 1-1 draw. Goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh was selected into the AFC Champions League team of the season as well.

Contrasting starts for Goa, ATK Mohun Bagan

This season, both Bagan and Goa were supposed to do well. While Bagan had a great start which petered out, Goa lost their first three games. But in the last three games, they’ve won seven out of nine points and were looking like they had turned a corner. And then Bagan came along.

Release clauses have become a reality of Indian football and they aren’t just for the players. Ferrando had talks with Bagan and the Kolkata club decided to pull the trigger and pony up the release clause for another Spaniard.

FC Goa co-owner Akshay Tandon made the news official on his Twitter. “With disappointment I’d like to confirm that @JuanFerrandoF has triggered his release clause, obliging us to release him of his duties so that he can join @atkmohunbaganfc. As long as the money gets deposited in our accounts, we do not have a choice in his decision,” Tandon said.

Goa will most likely hand the reins temporarily over to assistant coach Clifford Miranda. As for ATKMB, they have traded a Spaniard who set his team to score and shut shop for a Spaniard who just a few weeks ago, held an online meeting with journalists to discuss and explain football tactics and strategies. Ferrando will have a stacked team with Roy Krishna as his striker and Hugo Boumous as his midfielder.

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