Shuffling and getting stronger!

Helder Postiga, the marquee player of Atletico de Kolkata, at a press conference in Kolkata on September 25.-PTI

By inducting capable new players Atletico de Kolkata is all set to defend its last season’s title in the ISL. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Atletico de Kolkata banks on a new array of combatants under the same general as it prepares for a title defence in the second season of Hero ISL. Helder Postiga, the Portuguese World Cupper, and Iain Hume, the Canadian whose poaching skills enlivened the opening season of the tournament, are the new snipers in the army under the Spanish head coach Antonio Habas.

The real test of strength will happen when Habas’ troopers confront the team of Marco Materazzi in Chennai in the lung opener on October 3. Habas knows Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC was the most consistent side in ISL season-I and had topped the league table with the best record. Habas has admitted that the new season would be tougher as all the teams have now formed a fair idea about one another.

The coach has thus insisted on a good pre-season training, which happened over a month in Segovia, in the province of Los Angeles de San Rafael, Spain, to get the team in the best state of preparedness.

Postiga, the new marquee player of the side, and Hume replace Spanish World Cupper Luis Garcia and Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra Lemessa. Fikru, who became the enfant terrible of ATK, giving more trouble to Habas than goals, has joined the ranks of the Chennayin this season. Habas “congratulated” the Ethiopian striker in his venture and moved on to talk about his own team which he said was exciting and balanced.

Postiga is eager to “get in the shoes of Garcia and do something better.” Garcia was named the “most exciting player” of the tournament last season for the creative role he played in the attack and midfield and Postiga, who was introduced by ATK as the co-striker with Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, wishes to take the legacy a step forward.

ATK has retained three international players — Spaniards Borja Fernandez (midfield) and José Miguel González Rey (Josemi) and the Botswana defender Ofentse Nato — who had received the highest marks on consistency in Habas’ book last season.

Apart from Postiga and Hume, the other new international names picked up from the open market include Jaime Gavilán Martínez, Sameehg Doutie, Javi Lara, Valmiro Lopes Rocha (Valdo) (midfield), José Luis Espinosa Arroyo (Tiri) (defence), and Juan Calatayud (goalkeeper).

The domestic selection also underwent a lot of changes. The team retained midfielder Baljit Singh Sahni, side-backs N. Mohan Raj and Denzil Franco and the central defender Arnab Mondal. ATK picked up extra options in defence like Augustin Fernandes, Lalchhawnkima and Rino Anto among others from the draft, while adding midfielders like Jewel Raja, Syed Rahim Nabi, Nadong Bhutia and Clifford Miranda from the open market.

* * * HABAS HAPPY WITH PREPARATIONS

Antonio Habas, the head coach of Atletico de Kolkata, made sure that the team got the best pre-season preparation and for that he took the team to Segovia, in the province of Los Angeles de San Rafael, Spain. The high altitude facility was arranged by the franchise’s Spanish patron, the La Liga giant Atletico Madrid, and gave the players the chance to get conditioned with the best resources available with the top European club. “We want to play as a protagonist team and not as an antagonist team,” Habas said, meaning that ATK’s approach would be more attack-oriented and that the team would shun a defensive approach.

“We aimed to build a competitive team and I would appreciate the fantastic behaviour, attitude and fitness shown by the Indian players. With our international players showing good fitness and coordination, this is the best combination I can think of,” Habas, the former manager of the Bolivian national side, said.

The coach’s confidence stemmed from a good pre-season build-up. The team’s marquee player Helder Postiga scored a hat-trick, while Iain Hume struck twice as Atlético de Kolkata won its first friendly match 9-0 against the Gimnástica Segoviana CF U-19 team. “I am happy with the progress each player has made and hope the pre-season in Spain will help the footballers interact with each other and jell as a unit,” Habas said.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA * * * THE TRAINING THROUGH THE EYES OF NABI

THULASI KAKKAT

The facilities we received in Segovia were world class as they are often used by the first team of Atletico Madrid. The schedule remained tight and the communication among the players was quite cordial and hearty. The training was conducted in short sessions which ensured that we did not get tired and our bodies received the proper kind of conditioning. Previously, the kind of pre-season training I was exposed to, when playing for the I-League clubs or the national team, did not expose me to these kinds of modern methods or technique which are in use at the highest level of European football.

We have been feeling and discussing the change this kind of training is going to bring to our performance. I am sure all the franchises are using similar methods of modern scientific training for their teams. More than the international players, the Indian players are going to benefit from this and play with a new level of fitness and confidence. The formation drills and strength training that we received will definitely help us in becoming better professional players.

AS TOLD TO AMITABHA DAS SHARMA * * * THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Juan Calatayud, Amrinder Singh and Kunzang Bhutia.

Defenders: Nallappan Mohanraj, Tiri, Arnab Mondal, Denzil Franco, Josemi, Syed Rahim Nabi, Rino Anto, Augustin Fernandes and Lalchhawnkima.

Midfielders: Javi Lara, Jaime Gavilan, Valdo, Clifford Miranda, Jewel Raja, Arata Izumi, Sameehg Doutie, Ofentse Nato and Borja.

Forwards: Baljit Sahni, Iain Hume, Helder Postiga, Nadong Bhutia and Sushil Kumar Singh.