The latest edition of the Indian Super League 2021-22 season kicks off on Friday with the clash between ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters. The tournament will be played in three venues in Goa -- Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, Tilak Maidan in Vasco and GMC Athletic Stadium in Bambolin.
There is a lot to play for this season, as the coveted league is going through one major rule change, since its inception in 2014 -- of having only four foreign players in the team, which help produce stars for the national team. That four foreign-player rule will also ensure that there is at least one player from an AFC member nation.
This change goes on to show how the league has grown over the years -- wherein in 2014, a team could field up to six foreign players, and five Indians. That number was reduced to five in the 2017-2018 season, which has further come down to four now.
On the eve of the tournament opener, ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Habas said his team will play their own game against Kerala Blasters but will go into the field with nothing but respect for their opponents.
“We absolutely respect the opponent in this case and last season, the season before that, and the season before that, we had to play the fixtures against Kerala," Habas said. “We don’t have a lot of information about their quality because the deck he has, they have a new coach, new players but we have to analyse it to the individual profile of the players he has.
“But at all times, my morals in football are more important i.e. 85%, 80% for my team to perform its job and the rest 20% is my respect for the opponent."
Now, Mohun Bagan would like to continue their winning run against the Blasters, who beat the latter twice last season. But with a changed unit for the Kerala side, it would be an uphill task for Habas' men.
On the other hand, Kerala Blaster FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic will not let history bog down his side. The Blasters have come up against ATK Mohun Bagan twice in their history and lost on both occasions but will look to be on the right end of the result on Friday.
“We are mostly focused on ourselves on how we will play and what our tasks are. Of course, during every game, you have moments where you have to attack and you have to defend. It doesn’t mean that only one team will defend," Vukomanovic said.
“There will be moments in the game where we will have to sit back, and then they will have to sit back. So this is a football game. Actually the whole pre-season period and during the season, as a team, you’re preparing for all possible options."