Kolkata: Antonio Habas feels the number of foreign players featuring in an Indian Super League (ISL) should remain the same despite calls from certain quarters to bring it down. The record two-time title winning coach with ATK feels that this will enhance the level of Indian football.
India's national team head coach Igor Stimac had recently said that he is not happy with more foreign players featuring in a match in the ISL and I-League, saying it was coming in the way of the country producing the next Sunil Chhetri.
Stimac had said the ISL and I-League, the country's first and second tier leagues, should follow Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) policy of allowing a maximum of four foreign players (3+1 Asian) in a match instead of the five permitted by them currently.
"I believe that the number of foreign players must be maintained, at least 3-4 more seasons... keeping the current format. This will increase the level of the players and Indian football," Habas told IANS in an exclusive interview from his home in Madrid where is he currently undergoing mandatory quarantine of 15 days in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak which has forced Spain to go on lockdown.
"We have to work this time at clubs' academies so there's more Indian players with high performance," said Habas when asked about how to improve Indian players' standards in the current system where five foreigners can be fielded by teams in the starting XI.
"I think the Indian players' level has increased. In 2014, many Indian players were professionals but now many Indian players are professionals 24 hours a day," Habas said.
"In addition, I believe that the arrival of foreign players and coaches in football has had a major impact on the technical, tactical and professional training of the players of India; in today's and young players at the clubs academies," added the 62-year old.
Habas guided ATK to their third title, the highest by any team so far in the ISL, after the team beat Chennaiyin FC 3-1 in the final at the Jawaharlal Stadium in Fatorda, Goa last Saturday.
The former Valencia coach who has worked as assistant to Rafael Benitez had helped ATK win the title in the inaugural 2014 season. The city-based side won their second trophy under fellow Spaniard Jose Molina in 2016.
From next season, ATK-Mohun Bagan will play as one team of which Habas will remain the head coach.
"My professional commitment will be maximum, my thanks to ATK for trusting our work and I will try to live up to the Mohun Bagan story and its fans," he said on the job ahead.
Habas also revealed he has seen Mohun Bagan play in the I-League. "I've seen some Mohun Bagan players. I think Kibu (Vicuna, Mohun Bagan head coach) has done a good job."
On Mohun Bagan players joining ATK and if some of them have interested him? "We're seeing the possibility that some player can join the team, but we'll decide later," Habas concluded.