Internet Desk: ATK may not have scored the most number of goals in the history of the Hero ISL, even though they’ve played the most number of games. A glance at their attacking statistics will tell you that they’re not the best passing team either. They don’t have remarkable shooting numbers as well. What they do have, however, are two Hero Indian Super League titles, won by sheer grit, determination and a ruthless ability to see off games.
In modern-day football, where fans demand entertainment and wins, ATK have proved that at the end of the day, a 95th-minute winner after shutting out opponents in a final can also do the job.
But there’s something different about ATK this time. In their first three seasons, they retained a Spanish flavour. Antonio Lopez Habas delivered a title in 2014 and took them to the semifinals in 2015. In came Jose Francisco Molina in 2016 and delivered another title. This time, ATK have gone for the English duo of Teddy Sheringham (manager) and Ashley Westwood (technical director). ATK’s hallmark has been their ability to wriggle out of tricky situations, and they have also registered a whopping 20 draws in 50 games. That said, Sheringham and Westwood will look to instil a more win-at-all-costs mentality replete with counter-attacking entertaining football at the forefront of their philosophy.
“It’s a big challenge to coach the champions and every team knows we want to win the league again and will come at us, so we have to be ready for that,” said Sheringham, while acknowledging the British football connections in the Hero ISL this season. John Gregory (Chennaiyin FC), Steve Coppell (Jamshedpur FC) and Sheringham are all English while Kerala Blasters’ Rene Meulensteen has primarily coached in the Premier League.
Sheringham and Westwood may not have openly spoken about it, but the players they have signed signal to a more direct attacking system, something the latter employed during his time at Bengaluru FC as well. Robin Singh and Robbie Keane look devastating as a strike-pair up front while creative wide men like Jayesh Rane and Bipin Singh have been recruited. They’ve got hard-working defenders in Ashutosh Mehta and Prabir Das as fullbacks and both can deliver a mean cross. In the heart of the defence, they’ve got robust English centre-back Tom Thorpe. But the most impressive aspect of the team is their midfield, which will see Eugeneson Lyngdoh pull the strings and Conor Thomas acting as the destroyer. Debjit Majumder and Jussi Jaaskelainen are brilliant options as goalkeepers.
ATK will have a slightly different challenge this time with the number of clubs and games also increasing. While their fighting resistance is certainly hard to break down, it will be interesting to see how Sheringham copes with the pressure of games coming in quick succession. His only other managerial role was at League Two club Stevenage, so he comes in with the motivation of someone wanting to add to his exceptional playing career with some coaching credentials.
India is the perfect platform for Sheringham to dive into management with the freedom to apply his methods, and there is no better side than ATK for him to immerse himself into. ATK are different this season, but their fans will want more of the same.