At ATK, The manager reigns supreme

Atletico de Kolkata manager Antonio Habaswith co-owner Sourav Ganguly at the launch of the team’s new jersey in Kolkata. The Atletico management has given Habas a free hand to pick his squad.-PTI

Tough talking Spanish manager Antonio Habas has his way as the inaugural ISL champion revamps its squad to withstand the assault from its challengers. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Atletico de Kolkata won the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League last year. The Kolkata side now has started preparations for the second season in right earnest, eager to hold on to its crown.

The Spanish influence — the team has a tie-up with Atletico Madrid of La Liga — was pronounced in the team’s first outing and it promises to be the same this year too.

Spanish manager Antonio Habas, who has previously coached the Bolivian national side, did well to knit together a competitive side from a diverse group of players, staying true to his ideals, despite stiff resistance, at times, from the players and critics. His team played a tough brand of football, harrowing opponents out of the game, to secure the coveted title.

The Atletico management has appointed another Spaniard, Alberto Marrero, as the sporting director to bring in more cohesiveness and professionalism in its set-up.

Habas has rightly admitted that Season Two promises to be more challenging, with teams developing a fair idea about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Stamping his authority further, the manager has decided not to retain the services of last year’s marquee signing Luis Garcia and Ethiopian striker Fikru Teffera, who was a crowd favourite in Kolkata last term. Garcia’s advanced age (37) and Fikru’s undisciplined ways were too much for Habas to ignore. Other surprising exclusions from last year’s party are Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu and the Czech winger, Jakub Podany.

The team has already signed gutsy Canadian forward Iain Hume, a revelation for finalist Kerala Blasters in the inaugural season, as the Ethiopian’s replacement. The management has also retained the services of the Spanish duo, Borja Fernandez and Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey (Josemi) and Botswana defender Ofentse Nato, who had greatly impressed Habas with his consistency. Using its Spanish connection, Atletico has signed midfielder Jaime Gavilan Martínez, defender Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo (Tiri) and seasoned goalkeeper Juan Calatayud. South African midfielder Sameehg Doutie and Cape Verde winger Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo) have also been brought in to further strengthen the squad.

Atletico also decided against retaining the services of few of its domestic players — Sanju Pradhan, Climax Lawrence, Cavin Lobo, Rakesh Masih, Mohammed Rafique and goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. The team retained Baljit Singh Sahni, the Punjab player, whom Habas used in a versatile role, side-backs N. Mohan Raj, Denzil Franco and the central defender Arnab Mondal. ATK picked up extra options in defence by signing Augustin Fernandes, Lalchhawnkima and Rino Anto from the domestic auction and draft.

The midfield too promises to have a new look with the signing of established Indian medios like Jewel Raja, Syed Rahim Nabi, Nadong Bhutia and Clifford Miranda from open market. Japanese Izumi Arata, a naturalised Indian now, was also picked from the auction to lend variety.

The team, however, needs to add more firepower upfront to offer support to Hume and Indian international Sushil Kumar Singh.