To think that it had looked so promising for defending champions ATK before the 2017-18 season began. Notwithstanding the exit of minority owner, Atletico Madrid, the franchise had recruited high profile names in Teddy Sheringham as head coach and Ashley Westwood as Technical Director. Having made the playoffs in every edition of the ISL and having won the title twice in three seasons, ATK were primed to build on their dominance over the playing field.
The overseas contingent from the previous season underwent an overhaul and several new players came in, including marquee signing, Robbie Keane. Two established India internationals in Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Robin Singh were added to the roster.
Things went pear shaped fairly quickly though in the shape of injuries to both Keane and key signing, Carl Baker, before the season even began. Eugeneson was ruled out for the rest of the season in early December and ATK never quite recovered.
They struggled in every area of the pitch. Goals were hard to come by throughout the season. Struggling to create anything in the opposition box, they were mostly reduced to attempting crosses into the box for someone to latch onto (only Delhi delivered more crosses per game) or trying their luck from distance (no team scored a higher proportion of goals from outside the box).
The midfield lacked creativity, bite and incision and while the possession stats were good throughout the season, they struggled to win the ball back when it was lost. The defence line did not fare much better and only Delhi (again) conceded more than their 1.7 goals per game.
Both Sheringham and Westwood, who took over from him, left before the season ended. In hindsight, ATK should have gotten more quality Indian players in and that is something they have tried to address this season. Pronay Haldar, Malsawmzuala, Arnab Mondal, Shaikh Faiaz, Cavin Lobo and Sena Ralte are among a few talented local players who have made the switch to ATK. They have also brought in Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche, Everton Santos and Balwant Singh, all in the top ten scoring list from last season. Add to that John Johnson, Bengaluru’s mainstay in defence for so many seasons and Andre Bikey, who impressed last season at Jamshedpur and follows his boss, Steve Coppell to Kolkata. Gerson Vieira was a revelation at Mumbai last season and along with Moroccan midfielder, Noussair El Maimouni, round off what is possibly the strongest squad on paper in the ISL.
It will be interesting to see how Coppell uses the talent at his disposal. His teams are renowned for keeping clean sheets without scoring too many themselves and Jamshedpur played mostly on the counter last season. They had an average of 39% of the ball, the lowest of all teams. Will his new players adapt to his demands or will we see a Coppell side unlike the ones we have been used to seeing in the ISL the last couple of years in Kerala and Jamshedpur? After backing him big on transfers, ATK will expect nothing less than a title win.
Last season’s finish: Ninth
FlyingGoalie Prediction For This Season: Third (Qualify For The Playoffs)