BaichungBhutia, among Indian football’s most recognisable face, has picked up his favourite for the Indian Super League title in its second year.
“Atletico de Kolkata are definite frontrunners,” said Bhutia when he was asked to give his opinion on the eight franchisees taking part in the competition.
Bhutia’s choice may not have surprised many. Some may even say it’s an obvious choice since the former India captain works as a consultant for the Kolkata-based franchise but Bhutia wouldn’t put his neck on the line if he did not believe in something. And, his association with ATK apart, he really has a point.
ATK is now a different side from the one that took many by surprise by emerging champions last year. They had a great start but appeared to lose track of the title midway until they found form again. ATK’s victories were methodical and credit to Spanish coach Antonio Habas for taking Kolkata all the way.
Habas knows exactly what it takes to turn a team into ISL champions so his decision to release influential players like midfielder JofreMateu Gonzalez, goalkeeper EdelBete and striker FikruTeferra cannot be questioned. All three have found other franchisees welcoming them with open arms but Habas has plugged his own gaps with some remarkable additions.
Nowhere is this ‘improvement’ more visible than in strike force where marquee player HelderPostiga already looks like the signing of the season. Playing against the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish La Liga until last season, Postiga is now out to make Fikru a distant memory in Kolkata. And if he, for any reason, stutters at the start — unlikely given his pre-season form — Iain Hume can put his hand up and rise to the occasion. Hume was one of the stars of the inaugural edition of the ISL, scoring five goals and was awarded with the golden ball award for his stellar performances.
Juan Calatayud is a straight forward replacement for Cameroonian born-Armenian goalkeeper EdelBete, while Amrinder Singh andKunzangBhutia are more than adequate upgrades from what they had last season.
Habas has persisted with a few trusted hands. Spanish midfielder Borja Fernandez, OftenseNato and Josemi, all of whom finished the last season as ATK’s best players, and he is so determined to build on that form that he convinced ATK’s parent club, Atletico Madrid, to release players from their reserves.
Among the domestic players, the two players bought for significant amounts at the auction, RinoAnto and Izumi Arata, have both played in Kolkata in the past and will know what is expected of them. The accompanying pressure is only par for the course in the Mecca of Indian football.
On the evidence of the team’s strength on paper, Bhutia does not seem appear to be making either tall or claims. The credentials are very much there with no shortage of talent. There is every reason to believe they are here to defend the ISL title, which is rightfully theirs. Whether they can actually go that far remains to be seen.
Borja Fernandez, SameehgDoutie, Jaime Gavilan Martinez, Iain Hume, Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey, OftenseNato, Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo, Valmiro Lopes Rocha, Juan Galatuyud, Javi Lara, HelderPostiga, Arnab Mondal, Denzil Franco, NallapanMohanraj, BaljitSahni, NadongBhutia, Sheikh Jewel Raja, Sushil Kumar Singh, RinoAnto, Syed Rahim Nabi, Clifford Miranda, Amrinder Singh, Arata Izumi, Augustin Fernandes, KunzangBhutia, Lalchhawnkima
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