The kick-off of the fourth edition of Indian Super League (ISL) is less than a week and as 10 teams prepare for four months of football extravaganza, Goal takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team in their hunt for the trophy.
In this article, we analyse the squad of defending champions ATK. The two times champions have replaced their title-winning manager Jose Molina with legendary Manchester United and England striker Teddy Sheringham. Former I-League and Federation Cup winning Bengaluru FC manager Ashley Westwood has joined the team as the Technical Director.
They have roped in experienced players like Robbie Keane, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Carl Baker and the Indian contingent also features several dependable names. Interestingly, the team from Kolakta features just two Bengali players in Debjit Majumder and Prabir Das.
ATK's squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Kunzang Bhutia, Jussi Jaaskelainen.
Defenders: Nallappan Mohanraj, Tom Thorpe, Jordi, Keegan Pereira, Anwar Ali, Augustin Fernandes, Prabir Das, Ashutosh Mehta.
Midfielders: Conor Thomas, Carl Baker, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Darren Caldeira, Shankar Sampingiraj, Rupert Nongrum, Hitesh Sharma, Ronald Singh, Bipin Singh.
Forwards: Njazi Kuqi, Zequinha, Jayesh Rane, Robbie Keane, Robin Singh.
The defending champions can boast of having a strong attacking unit this season. With overseas players like Robbie Keane, Njazi Kuqi, Zequinha and big Indian names like Robin Singh and Jayesh Rane, Teddy Sheringham’s side looks extremely versatile in attack on paper.
Another massive advantage is the average height of the strikers. Zequinha, Robin Singh and Njazi Kuqi are all above 6 feet which provides the team with a massive aerial threat. Even Robbie Keane is very good in the air. Although Sheringham has said he would prefer a short, passing game, we could see ATK make maximum use of the width of the pitch and use the aerial advantage to their benefit.
Also it must be noted that all their foreign players have played more than 20 matches in 2017 except Jordi Figueras who played 17 league games, pointing to a commendable recruitment policy. Zequinha was an integral part of CD Nacional side, Kuqi played more than 20 matches for FC Inter and of course was LA Galaxy’s main man.
Among the Indian boys, Robin Singh was a regular starter at East Bengal in the I-League and Federation Cup. Jayesh was one of the pillars of Aizawl FC’s I-League last season.
If ATK’s strike force is their biggest strength, then the central defence and central midfield are the areas to worry about. They have recruited several quality Indian players in their backline like Keegan Pereira, Prabir Das, Nallappan Mohanraj, Augustin Fernandes but all these players are predominantly full backs. Augustin and Nallappan Mohanraj have not really had much game time while Anwar Ali remains the only alternative option in central defence.
Thus the gaffer is totally dependent on his overseas recruits at the heart of the defence. If either of the two central defenders, Jordi Figueras and Tom Thorpe, are injured, the Kolkata giants will face serious problems.
Another area of worry for the British gaffer is the central midfield. The only big Indian name ATK have is India international Eugeneson Lyngdoh who hasn't been in the best of forms, thus once again the team is heavily dependent on their foreign recruits. The likes of Shankar Sampingiraj, Darren Caldeira etc haven't played a lot of games in the last two seasons.
ATK have recruited two extremely promising youngsters in their squad this time in Bipin Singh Thounaojam and Hitesh Sharma. They are integral part of the squad and coach Teddy Sheringham is likely to use them during the season.
Former Shillong Lajong youngster, 22-year-old Bipin Singh is all set to make his debut in ISL this season. The Manipuri attacker was a part of the Lajong side since 2012 and scored two goals in Dubai against Dibba Al-Hisn Sports & Culture Club. He is set to feature in several games for ATK this season.
Then there is 19-year-old Jalandhar born midfielder Hitesh Sharma. The former Tata Football Academy (TFA) cadet plied his trade with Mumbai FC last season in the I-League and played 8 games for the club. Hitesh is a talented young attacking midfielder who has the opportunity this season to showcase his talent and make a name for himself in Indian football.
The Danger Man
ATK were one of the very few ISL sides who could not properly utilise the service of their marquee player in the last two seasons. Portuguese Helder Postiga plied his trade with the Kolkata side as their marquee signing in 2015 and 2016 but unfortunately remained out of action in more than 50 per cent of the team’s matches.
Thus the board decided to part ways with the forward this season and brought in Irish legend Robbie Keane as the marquee player. Keane is the highest goal scorer in the history of Republic of Ireland and one of the most celebrated names in European football. After spending five seasons in the US with LA Galaxy, Keane took the decision of taking up a new challenge.
At LA Galaxy, the striker had scored 83 goals in 125 outings which clearly shows that he has not lost his goalscoring abilities. The marquee forward has already scored thrice for ATK in the pre-season and is all set to unleash himself in the upcoming ISL season. Without a doubt, the Irish man will be the Kolkata outfit’s danger man despite being sidelined for the initial two weeks of the tournament with an Achilles injury.
ATK have put together a very strong squad this time and as usual they will remain one of the favourites to lift the title.