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Liston Colaco's record-breaking transfer might be superficially misleading

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Liston Colaco recently made his International debut against UAE

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Liston Colaco's record-breaking transfer might be superficially misleading

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sounak mullick

04/12/2021

Liston Colaco was roped in by ATK-Mohun Bagan from Hyderabad FC for a record transfer fee for an Indian player, but the amount was undisclosed. With the hype around the deal and a footballer at his peak, there are several pros and cons before the deal can be deemed as a successful one.

Liston Colaco’s career graph skyrocketed to an enormous extent in the past twelve months, a rare phenomenon in Indian football, with the player recently bagging a record-transfer move to ATK-Mohun Bagan. This comes days after making his debut for the Indian football team. Superficially, the Goa-based player is daydreaming in seventh heaven, but whether the move would fast-track his growth is another discussion altogether.

The three-time winners have been reserved regarding their playing style, with no space for out-of-the-book policies allowed by their stalwart manager – Antonio Lopez Habas. With Liston known for playing an exciting brand of football, how successful is the move going to be?

Liston’s story so far

Hyderabad FC narrowly missed out on a top-four finish in the previous domestic season, but the spirited campaign earned them several accolades with six national team call-ups for starters. Liston Colaco was the leader of the pack, with the footballers’ eye-catching display down the wings stamped as one of the major talking points of the season. That said, it can’t be ignored that Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez was in a position to show faith in the young lad, with him featuring in 19 out of their 20 matches – more than enough time to establish himself.

As the going says – ‘football is a team game,’ Liston’s trickery with the ball was highlighted by his teammates - a two-fold affair. While Aridane Santana, Fran Sandaza and Joel Chianese complemented the 22-year old from the onset, Halicharan Narzary kept the other wing flowing. The entire mix summed up to the final product, while the attacking intent was constant with them ending up as the joint second-placed side with most goals – 31.

Take out a piece from the puzzle, the story would have fallen apart. Colaco, with two goals and three assists, was equally responsible for the outcome. Wondering how he might fit in the scheme of things at ATK-Mohun Bagan? Well, that’s a million-dollar question.

ATK-Mohun Bagan’s philosophy

Antonio Lopez Habas, in charge of Mariners’ daily affairs wears the cap of being the most successful coach in the history of the Indian Super League but his defensive brand of football invited criticisms more often than not, in spite of it being a successful formula. In the inaugural season with ATK (back then), in 2014, the Spaniard came out with top honours, but they were the team with the least goals scored amongst the top-four, with the display from the back-four levelling out the goal difference factor.

Even though the scoring escalated in the following season, their playing style was constant but finishing with a negative goal difference while in charge of FC Pune City in the 2016-17 ISL saw him go into hibernation. Things changed with a call-up in 2019 from ATK opened up avenues once again and the tactician was back at normal tides – churning-out results in a typical Antonio Lopez Habas way, characterised by minimum risk and rock-solid defence with 1-0 victories predominant.

The nature of Habas’ game is such that it contradicts the philosophy of attacking midfielders or wingers, which is where the root cause of the problem lies. For instance, Marcelinho, one of the best foreigners ever to play in the ISL, was roped in by ATK-Mohun Bagan midway through the last season, but he was far from playing his natural game as a winger. To put it more precisely, the style of play adopted by ATK-Mohun Bagan never allowed him to do the same.

Antonio Lopez Habas is the most successful coach in the history of the ISL © ISL

What the future plan indicates

With the club releasing him following the end of the season, the intentions were clear from the think tank. In the previous season, ATK-Mohun Bagan played with three forwards in almost all their games - Roy Krishna as their main man, while Manvir Singh and David Williams in withdrawn roles. 

The midfield was spread out with players like Carl Mchugh, Javi Hernandez, Edu Garcia, and Pronay Halder, all equipped to hold the ball for longer periods and releasing it upfront on odd occasions. It ensured their blocking was top-notch but relied mainly on the fast-break to create openings. 

On the flip side, it negated the cushion for having attacking midfielders or wingers, as was the case in the inaugural season of the ISL, where Fikru Lalema, Baljit Singh Saini, and Luis Garcia formed the front three. It is likely Habas will adopt a similar and tested approach in the future as well.

Either way, Habas prefers two overseas players combining with a lone domestic one. With Manvir Singh hogging the limelight in the previous season, having also netted once during India's international friendly against Oman last month, there’s no way he can be left out from the reckoning.

Now, where does Liston Colaco fit in?

For the sake of argument, let’s say ATK-Mohun Bagan use him as the third cog in the wheel, then what plans do they have for Michael Soosairaj? The Tamil-Nadu-based footballer was instrumental in their 2019-20 ISL winning campaign but was sidelined after suffering an injury in the opening game of the previous season. 

With an experienced player like him back in the mix, how can Antonio Lopez Habas afford to bench him? That re-routes us back to the problem we’ve been discussing. Until now it has been made clear that Liston Colaco won’t be seen as much on the pitch compared to his Hyderabad FC days.

If you believe that Habas would likely sacrifice one foreigner and field two Indian players up front, well, there’s another twist to the tale. Both Soosairaj and Liston prefer to play as left-wingers and couple that with a similar playing style, it puts rest to the debate altogether. It is clear that their playing time would be divided, which, for two footballers in their prime days is not healthy for career development. ATK-Mohun Bagan might have added options to their bench, but at a dear cost.

Once again, Indian football stands to lose the most from it.  With the Indian football team head coach vocal about building up a squad for the future, domestic players in contention for the same are expected to enjoy more game time to master the art. The move might have satisfied both the franchises - ATK-Mohun Bagan to bolster their attacking line-up and Hyderabad FC for financial gain but at the expense of jeopardizing the development of a player who set the Indian domestic season on fire last season. As things stand, it is quite possible that we'll remember Liston Colaco as a one-season wonder many years down the line. 

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