ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – ATK

ISL 2019 | What Clicked and What Didn’t – ATK

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It's the second consecutive season that ATK failed to qualify for the playoffs and as much as one would want to blame it on their degrading names, which has gone from bad to worse now, the crux has been Steve Coppell’s frustrating negative football and to a large extent his pathetic imports.

From Atletico de Kolkata to Amar Tomar Kolkata, and now World ATK - anyone following the two-time champions closely would get a fair idea that they are running out of creativity and fast. This made Steve Coppell’s appointment fairly obvious. The 63-year-old English manager could be a lot of things but creativity has never been his forte and it reflected in ATK’s sub-par sixth position finish.

It could be considered progress though with a strange achievement of six wins, six losses, and six draws, compared to their ninth-place finish last season where they had four wins, four draws and ten losses. If this doesn’t make them the most mediocre club this season, I don’t know what will. However, Coppell couldn’t really be blamed for it for he has lived up to his petty potential, and ATK knew what they were stepping into before his appointment.

What Clicked

As far as the hits go, ATK have had quite a few mixed performances across all the three areas of the field – defence, midfield, as well as the attack. To start with, I think Arindam Bhattacharya would feel hard done by given the way his teammates played in front of him. The former Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC player was the main reason for ATK ending as the fourth least conceding side in the league. For all the talks of Coppell being impeccably organized at the back, Bhattacharya was still forced to pull off some outlandish fists throughout the season. He faced 69 shots on target and successfully kept 47 of them out in 18 games. Though the numbers of only four clean sheets don’t justify his performance, he has only let in 22 goals facing a whopping 198 shots.

The second man in defence to shoulder such an enormous amount of responsibility would be John Johnson. The former BFC man was, in my opinion, a more significant buy than fan favourite Manuel Lanzarote. While the Spaniard was given a free role to make things happen to some extent, which the former Goa man exploited unsuccessfully, Johnson made a mark by playing within the system. Being counted amongst the very few intelligent defenders in the league, the Englishman was Coppell’s spine. He won tackles, made successful recovery runs, and most importantly, could play some delightful long passes – both straight and diagonal – with an accuracy of 78.27%.

Apart from the above two, ATK’s balance largely relied on the masterful midfield trio of Pronay Halder, Gerson Viera, and Manuel Lanzarote. Though Lanzarote would be remembered more for his goals and witty close control of the ball, he wouldn’t have thrived without Halder and Viera. The two defensive midfielders were ATK’s lynchpin throughout the season in terms of breaking opponents’ play and that blended with some intelligent passes through the channels that worked out extremely well for the side at times. The defensive duo also committed 65 fouls together and escaped with only nine yellow cards for it and no send-offs whatsoever. However, ATK’s creamy layer ends here.

While wingers Jayesh Rane and Komal Thatal had their moments from time to time this season, ATK’s best buy was Edu Garcia. Bought to give ATK a last push following the post-international break, Garcia looked the missing piece in their puzzle and had ATK not lost Lanzarote to injuries in the fag end of the season or played under a must-win situation for the remaining six games, he could have expressed himself more clinically. Nevertheless, he scored three goals in six games and could be an interesting option next season.

What Didn’t

Coppell’s master plan of building a team around certain key players was perfectly buoyed by ATK’s plentiful financial resources. However, to the manager’s misfortune, while some of his imports did decently, most of the others bailed out. And it wasn’t surprising that the underperforming part was mostly on the offensive.

The biggest failure of the season, if taken into the consideration the fame upon which he was brought in, was Kalu Uche. Coppell’s liking for physically built forward is not a mystery and whether it was for his instructions or Uche’s inability to take his chances, ATK’s misery was hugely for Uche lack of goals. The Nigerian striker could manage just one goal in 11 matches and Coppell’s insistence on playing him repeatedly was frustrating for the fans after a time.

Another forward, who had arrived at the back of tremendous anticipation, was Everton Santos. In the seven matches that Uche was injured, Coppell had mostly preferred to play the winger as the centre forward and the fact that he ended up assisting just once in the whole season didn't surprise anymore. The wide forward was also forced to accommodate in the central midfield in the absence of a suspended Halder and the result was a 3-0 drubbing in the hands of FC Goa, where Santos failed terribly to cover a deep-lying Ahmed Jahouh. 

However, Santos cannot be fully blamed for his under-average season for while he could only have one assist in 16 matches, he had 30 successful tackles, six interceptions, 17 clearances, and 15 blocks, which is a decent defender’s figure for a season. This clearly indicates where the crux lies for the below average ATK forwards. Yes, I would count Coppell amongst the bigger failures this season for his stoic demeanor at the dugout during the matches and highly responsible for unable to instill enthusiasm in the likes of Balwant Singh, Hitesh Sharma, Ricky Lallawmawma, Andre Bikey, Aiborlang Khongjee, and more, who ended the season as just names on the team sheet. 

At a time when BFC, Goa, Mumbai City FC, and even FC Pune City for that matter, managed to keep the audience on their feet with stunning attacking football, Coppell’s negative play had marred the souls of numerous players who could never make a comeback. Coppell cannot even complain about the lack of funds, something that Cesar Ferrando experienced throughout the season and still did well. ATK had enough money to wage the likes of Pritam Kotal, Emiliano Alfaro, Garcia, and Eli Babalj mid-season, which shows that the only reason they failed to score much was that they didn’t try much.

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