Audaciously named as India’s El Clasico, a clash between Kerala Blasters and ATK has often transcended the on-field quality and outcome with the repercussions raining heavily over the extremely-polarized states, divided by culture and language but being shoulder to shoulder in football fanaticism.
It has been a highly debatable “tag” that the fixture has been burdened with over the last few years, but the Indian Super League has hardly had clubs initially, which reflected fandom of such magnitude. Now, with FC Goa and Bengaluru FC gaining prominence in the last few seasons, the tide might have taken a turn for the better.
However, history is evident that a giant could only sleep for years, and eventually always came back to claim what’s theirs. If looked into the transfer business done by both the sides this summer, they have, in a way, waged a war amongst the elite few of the league who have established brittle, new settlements on the battleground of late.
In terms of the number of stars on paper, hardly any fixture in the league would see so many stars taking the field at the same time as Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium would, in Kochi, on Sunday. And with this, both the financially filthy rich franchises have assured that the ambience wasn’t compromised, something that was hugely disheartening last time. While ATK’s slowly fading chance of getting into the top four became obvious through mid-season, Kerala’s fans had put up a massive protest against the mundane playing style of David James’ play.
That all should be changing for the better now, with title-winning coach Antonio Habas coming at the helm of ATK and highly-acclaimed Eelco Schattorie taking Kerala Blasters’ charge. After falling out of the playoffs in the last two years and more importantly, losing their way in terms of philosophy in the league, the sides would be taking on each other to reclaim their lost stature and put a finger on their fading legacy.
This season’s opening fixture has been a reverse fixture of last season’s opener, and not only that, but ISL has seen four of their five season-openers involving either of the two sides – which goes on to show how huge bets both the sides have been for the makers of the nation’s premier football tournament.
However, a classic cannot exist between bad blood and while five years of existence has been too little to go down in the folklore of legends for rifts and fights. But, Kerala Blasters fans have never been able to forgive ATK for snatching the services of their star man Iain Hume and Stephen Pearson, especially after the former helped the Kolkata side win their second title in 2016. But, the ruthlessness hasn’t gotten into their conscience. While ATK robbed Michael Soosairaj off Jamshedpur FC, who are now all the poorer for it, Kerala did the same with Mario Arques with JFC and Bartholomew Ogbeche with NorthEast United FC.
While Manjappada would be having the bragging rights at the moment, after they won away at ATK last time and churned out a draw in their backyard, the Kolkata side has enjoyed a fair success over the years. They have beaten Kerala twice to lift the title in 2014 and 2016 and had won in Kochi in both 2015 and 2016. But, the thrill, angst, and pride have all mellowed down over the last two years, more so, because their inability to compete for the top honours has reduced the stakes whenever these two played.
All of that have every potential to change on Tuesday. It would be a clash of two contrasting philosophies again, something that wasn’t the case in the last few years, with Habas bringing his gritty and immovable will to the backyard of Schattorie’s fluid and beautiful passing play. The Blasters would be expected to see more possession throughout the 90 minutes but it is ATK who have arguably the best counter-attacking arsenal in the league.
All in all, both the teams have come a long way from the rigid, negative, and predominantly defensive structure from the last season and fans would be expecting the old classic to become the new cult. There would be more rage, more strength, more intent, but most importantly, the lost glory, as India’s “El Clasico” return after years.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi