BY ATANU MITRA
ATLETICO DE KOLKATA
Atletico de Kolkata, the Indian Super League (ISL) franchise from the City of Joy has the most co-owners. Atletico Madrid, who had a brilliant run last season wherein they claimed the La Liga title and finished runners-up in the UEFA Champions League, pledged to be a part of India’s proposed football revolution alongside the likes of Sourav Ganguly, Harshvardhan Neotia, Sanjeev Goenka and Utsav Parekh.
Antonio Lopez Habas (right) spent his entire playing career in Spain with stints at clubs like Sevilla and Murcia. Although the final season of his career was at Atletico Madrid in 1985-86, he didn’t feature in any official game for them.
Having retired at the age of 29, he has over 20 years of coaching experience, most of it in Spain. He has served under the likes of Rafael Benitez and Bernd Schuster at Valencia and Malaga respectively. He has also had stints as the coach of the Bolivian national team with whom he appeared at two Copa America outings, during the first of which in 1995 he took them to the quarter-final stage.
More recently, he was in-charge of South Africa’s Wits University FC in 2013 after which he was the head of the youth setup at Atletico Madrid last season.
Habas is known to be strict with his players when it comes to discipline and makes them sign an attendance sheet before training everyday. It is evident that he brings ample experience to the Kolkata side along with his methods.
With the kind of squad at his disposal, the coach is expected to start with a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. Despite the presence of former Paris Saint-Germain custodian Apoula Edel and former Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Basilio Sancho Agudo, the coach may want to start with Subhasish Roychowdhury between the sticks, so that he can use six overseas players in the outfield.
On the right side of the defense, Josemi, who was part of Liverpool’s Champions League winning squad back in 2005 should be a sure starter ahead of Denzil Franco. Arnab Mondal, arguably the best central defender in the country will pair up with former Lyon and Monaco stopper Sylvain Monsoreau at the heart of the back four. While Nallappan Mohanraj looks like the favourite to start as the left back, Biswajit Saha has also garnered some playing minutes in the pre-season and may get his share of action.
Atletico have a strong midfield with Borja Fernandez expected to pull the strings. The Real Madrid youth product had stints in Valladolid and Getafe and the fact that he had made 28 appearances in the La Liga last season implies that he should not find it difficult to be match fit again.
Ofentse Nato, who is a vital cog for Botswana – a country ranked 67 places above India, should have been a starter but with every franchise having to field at least five domestic players in the line-up, Cavin Lobo could get the nod.
The club’s marquee signing, Luis Garcia has returned from retirement and expected to provide the creative thrust. Rakesh Masih was used extensively in the pre-season and it would be interesting to see whether he gets into the first team. On the left wing, Czech winger Jakub Podany looks like a sure starter, having impressed the coaching staff in the pre-season encounter while Sanju Pradhan would run down the right flank.
Ethiopian international Fikru Teferra is tipped to start as the lone striker ahead of Arnal Lilbert, while the likes of Mohammed Rafi and Baljit Singh Sahni may also be handed opportunities to prove their mettle. Despite his sluggish start against Pinki Roy XI in the last friendly, his brilliant strike more than amends. Former La Masia graduate Jofre Mateu and Bangladesh skipper Mamunul Islam will give the coach options on the bench to choose from.
STRENGTHS: A lengthy pre-season tour to Madrid has certainly helped the players gel and also allowed the coach to work on different tactical systems. Habas has formerly watched most of the foreign players closely while his assistant Jose Ramirez Barreto’s knowledge about Indian football will help them immensely. Add to that a home stadium that can host over a lakh fans and Atletico look like the side to be kept at bay.
WEAKNESSES: While most of the sides have added big names to their rosters, Atletico haven’t done much work to bolster their squad after the international drafts. Lack of star-power may prove out to be costly off the field, while the Indian players on the reserve bench don’t look too convincing either.
STAR NAME - LUIS GARCIA
The former Liverpool, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid star’s experience and sheer class could make the difference for the Kolkata outfit. He is known to score a lot of goals from midfield which will add bite to their attack.
STAR NAME - ARNAB MONDAL
The fact that Kolkata chose Arnab in the second round of domestic draft epitomizes his significance in the line-up. With Kingshuk Debnath being the only other Indian central defender in the side, the East Bengal centre-back is expected to start.
While the side won thrice and shared the bragging rights twice against lower division Spanish clubs during their stay in Madrid, they lost 3-1 against Pinki Roy XI very recently in Kolkata after winning their first match in the city 1-0 against Chima Okorie XI. In the last match, the team found it difficult to cope up with the heat and the artificial turf, but would have to find the rhythm quickly to counter the strong Mumbai City FC side on 12th October, 2014.
09 SEP: 6-0 Gimnástica Segoviana CF-B
11 SEP: 6-0 Gimnástica Segoviana CF-B
16 SEP: 3-0 Unami CP (4th)
18 SEP: 2-2 Gimnástica Segoviana CF (4th)
23 SEP: 0-0 Club Unión Collado Villalba (4th)
30 SEP: 1-0 Chima Okorie XI
05 OCT: 1-3 Pinki Roy XI
Goalkeepers - Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Basilio Sancho Agudo, Apoula Edima Edel Bete
Defenders - Arnab Mondal, Biswajit Saha, Denzil Franco, José Miguel González Rey, Kingshuk Debnath, Nallappan Mohanraj, Sylvain Monsoreau
Midfielders - Borja Fernández, Cavin Lobo, Climax Lawrence, Jakub Podaný, Jofre Mateu González, Lester Fernandez, Mohamed Mamunul Islam Mamun, Ofentse Nato, Rakesh Masih, Sanju Pradhan, Luis García
Forwards - Arnal Llibert Conde Carbó, Baljit Sahni, Fikru Teferra Lemessa, Mohammed Rafi, Mohammed Rafique
WHAT Do you think of the Kolkata team? Can they win the inaugural ISL? Let us know by leaving a comment...
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