New Look ATK Hope Experienced Steve Coppell Can Lead Them to Third Title
Englishman Steve Coppell, in his third season in Indian football after stints with Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC, has been tasked with the task of stabilising the team as ATK looks for their third title this year.
Last year, not for the first time, Kolkata displayed its passion and love for football when the FIFA U-17 World Cup games were held there, which included the exciting finale. But after the euphoria of the showpiece global tournament died down, the City of Joy’s representatives in the Indian Super League, the then defending champions ATK, failed to capitalise on that momentum as they had to endure a terrible season.
The empty seats at the sixty thousand plus seater stadium was testament to how badly the side had fared, and what did not help the side was that the fans were already miffed about the matters of rivalry and territory with traditional Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
The presence of big names like Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Keane was expected to keep the champion side in the hunt for the title but they were unable to guide the team to a respectable position in the league. The former was sent packing in the early stages and Keane also failed to impress. Ashley Westwood, who shone in his earlier role as a coach at Bengaluru FC, was also unable to reverse the tide in fortunes.
ATK finished ninth with four wins and as many draws and lost ten games.
Cut to season five of the competition, one that could possibly be the last one with only one team from Kolkata, the Sourav Ganguly-owned franchise must rebuild their core if they are to bring the crowds back to fill up the majestic Salt Lake Stadium and match the feats of season one and three.
Englishman Steve Coppell, in his third season in Indian football after stints with Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC, has been tasked with the task of stabilising the team.
“Looking at the ISL, continuity is an advantage. Continuity in terms of the coach, continuity in terms of players. The top four teams from last year will again be strong. Chennaiyin, Bengaluru FC and Pune City will be strong. We have to rebuild ATK and aim for the top end of the table, the elite end. To make it there, we have to be effective,” Steve Coppell said at a press conference last week.
ATK have rung in the changes for this season. They retained only seven players in their squad, and one of the earliest signings saw them land former Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson.
Prolific forward Kalu Uche, the dynamic Spaniard Manuel Lanzarote and former Botafogo striker Everton Santos were added to the squad. Among the Indian players, defenders Arnab Mondal, midfielders Cavin Lobo and Pronay Halder and forward Balwant Singh were roped in. Not to forget, one of India’s best midfielders, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, will be back and raring to go after being out of action since the third match of the previous season.
With a defence boasting of names such as Johnson, Andre Bikey, Gerson Viera and Mondal, one expects Coppell’s side to be strong at the back and leak in few goals.
“For the last two years, I might not have had those players that could give that something extra in the final third. This time we have Lanzarote, Everton, Kalu and Balwant (Singh) who could do that with the ball. I will do my best to create them opportunities but it is all about balance in the team,” coach Coppell said at a press conference in Kolkata ahead of the season’s opener.
A look at the ATK squad can only make the fans optimistic, especially given the dismal season last year. But once the players cross the white line, it will be a different story altogether.
In the boardroom, the decisions point towards a pragmatic approach as the two time champions have opted to dump the idea of bringing in a ‘crowd puller’ and chosen to go with what is likely to be a more fruitful approach.
ATK begin their campaign against old rivals Kerala Blasters on September 29 at the Salt Lake Stadium and anything less than a top four finish will be considered a massive failure.
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