ISL 2018-19: Will ATK's policy of going for foreigners with Indian experience pay off?

After a poor season last time out, the ATK management do not seem to be taking any risks, especially with the recruitment of the foreign players...

ATK, in many ways, embraced change before the last season of the Indian Super League (ISL). After LaLiga club Atletico Madrid and the franchise parted ways, the Kolkata-based franchise opted to go for an English coach in Teddy Sheringham. It was a marked departure from its Spanish-centric appraoch that had seen Antonio Habas and Jose Molina take charge of the team in the first three seasons. 

They had enjoyed success as well, in the form of two titles and a play-off finish. Powering the team on the field were several key Spanish players in Luis Garcia, Borja Fernandez, Jaime Gavilan and Tiri. 

But in the last season, the franchise's decision to deviate from the approach backfired. Teddy Sheringham was sacked midway while his replacement Ashley Westwood did not last the course as well and marquee signing Robbie Keane was forced to take up the coaching mantle. Other overseas signings like Englishmen Tom Thorpe, Conor Thomas and Finnish stars Jussi Jaskelainen and Njazi Kuqi all came a cropper. 

Robbie Keane ATK

None of these players had any experience in India before and the result was that the team ended up in the ninth spot in the ten-team league. 

The management has now decided to go for the tried and tested by bringing in another Englishman Steve Coppell. The former Manchester United man is no stranger to the league or the country, having managed here for the last two seasons with Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC

He reached the final with the Blasters while narrowly missing out on the play-off spot with the Men of Steel. 

The two-time winners are not taking any risks with their overseas player recruitment as well. They have brought in Gerson Vieira, John Johnson, Andre Bikey, Manuel Lanzarote, Kalu Uche, Everton Santos and Noussair El Maimouni. 

Everyone in this list apart from the Moroccan midfielder Maimouni have had ISL experience for various teams. Brazilian duo of Gerson Vieira and Everton Santos (six goals and five assists) have played for Mumbai City while Cameroonian Andre Bikey was a trusted lieutenant of Coppell last season at Jamshedpur and turned out for the likes of NorthEast United before that. 

Everton Santos Mumbai City FC Jamshedpur FC ISL 4 2017/2018

Manuel Lanzarote played a starring role in FC Goa's march to the play-offs contributing 12 goals and six assists while Kalu Uche banged in 13 goals for Delhi Dynamos last season.

English defender John Jonhson is, perhaps, the most experienced of the lot when it comes to playing in India. He has been a part of Bengaluru FC since its inception in 2013 before making the jump to the City of Joy this time around. He was the rock on which Bengaluru FC's defence, the meanest of all teams during the league stage, was built. 

Another important factor to be noted here is that everyone of the aforementioned six players were stars or at least regulars for their respective ISL sides last season. Not discards or rejects by any means. 

ATK Foreign

Having had experience of the Indian conditions and demands of the ISL, all these players will be expected to hit the ground running for ATK. With seven star names competing for five overseas spots in the playing XI, the competition is set to go up a notch as well, which can only be good.  

It bodes well for ATK fans when they see a proven, star cast in their overseas department. And with these players in the hands of a coach who knows what he is doing, the franchise can be hopeful of avoiding a debacle in the upcoming season.

Of course, there are no guarantees in football. But one cannot fault the thought-process of the management which has given the team every chance of competing for a play-off spot.