Two titles in the first three seasons of the Indian Super League was something that befitted the team representing the birthplace of Indian football. The Kolkata representative, ATK, had a dream start, but the winner of the inaugural and the third editions was in for a rude shock as the honeymoon with its Spanish benefactor Atletico de Madrid ended after the third season. This divorce of interests wreaked havoc in the fourth season with ATK finishing ninth in a cluster of 10 teams.
This was apparently due to an attempt to switch to the English system from the Spanish school, which had given it the recipe for success. Shedding off the assertive Atletico de Kolkata tag, it became ATK to signify the change.
The former English World Cupper Teddy Sheringham, arrived as the coach, but the former Manchester United forward found the Indian winter quite harsh and saw his tenure eclipsed after 10 matches with the defending champion lying eighth.
His mid-season successor Ashley Westwood could not do anything better and ATK finished a dismal ninth at the end of the league engagements. The Irish star Robbie Keane was also missed in a number of matches because of injury.
ATK has acted out of pragmatism in the new season (2018-2019) without the flamboyance it had sought to display previously. “We have tried to form an all-round and compact squad. I am happy to welcome several new members to the ATK family and hope that together we can put up some great football this season,” was how ATK principal owner Sanjiv Goenka put it at the beginning of the season.
Despite sending Sheringham and Westwood home, ATK has not forsaken the English system. It has brought in the astute Steve Coppell, who seems to have assessed the needs of Indian football the best among all the international coaches in business in the subcontinent.
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Coppell, like what he did with Kerala Blasters and then with Jamshedpur FC, has opted for fitter players who would be able to endure the rigours of the season. ATK has signed Spanish midfielder Manuel Lanzarote Bruno and retained English centre back John Johnson, while Nigerian forward Kalu Uche has been put on top as Coppell looks to strengthen the “spine” of the side. Johnson has a good understanding of Indian conditions having spent five seasons at Bengaluru FC before switching to ATK last year. Also joining the attack is the Brazilian striker Everton Santos.
Among the prominent Indian signings this season have been the likes of Balwant Singh (from Mumbai City FC), Pronay Haldar (FC Goa), Shaikh Faiaz (Mohun Bagan) and Arnab Mondal and Cavin Lobo from East Bengal. With the I-League winning coach Sanjoy Sen by his side, Coppell can expect a good balance when it comes to Indian players, where Sen’s advice will be of great importance.
The team had its pre-season training at the Pinatar Arena (San Pedro del Pinatar) in the Murcia region of Spain.
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