Earlier this year, they were forced to look for a head coach after Antonio Lopez Habas had reportedly priced himself out of the budget. Now, Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) may have to search for a goalkeepers’ coach because South African Predipkumar ‘Deshi’ Bhaktawer may miss most of the pre-season due to a family commitment.
“I was all set to leave for Madrid and even asked Atletico de Kolkata to make arrangements for extra luggage because of the equipment I needed to carry when something cropped up at home last week,” said Bhaktawer over the phone from South Africa. The former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper and pundit said he may need to be in South Africa till September 20 now.
“I am still undecided but I would totally understand should ATK look for a replacement. The pre-seasons are very important. I have heard the league would be longer next year, I would love to get back then,” said Bhaktawer who has been with the team since the start of the ISL in 2014.
After ISL2, Bhaktawer was with the South Africa team that was preparing for the Rio Olympics. South Africa began by holding gold medallists Brazil goalless but Bhaktawer said they paid for not being able to close out the game against Iraq which ended 1-1. South Africa lost 0-1 to Denmark in the final game and were eliminated. “We weren’t that far from qualifying,” he said.
Like they did in the last two seasons, ATK have started their pre-seasons in Madrid this week. They are scheduled to reach Kolkata in the third week of September for ISL3 which begins on October 1. ATK’s first match is at home on October 2 against Chennaiyin FC. They will play at the Rabindra Sarovar stadium this time because the Salt Lake stadium is getting ready for the 2017 under-17 World Cup and hence unavailable.
For the third successive season, ATK have changed goalkeepers. This time, Shilton Paul and Debjit Majumdar have been recruited along with Spaniard Dani Mallo, 37. “It helps that our coach (Jose Molina) is a former goalkeeper but we may need a replacement for Deshi. We will ask Atletico Madrid (part-owners of ATK) for help,” said a team official requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media.
With unconventional training methods such as using a tennis ball to improve reflexes and boxing to facilitate better feet movement, Bhaktawer got Subhasish Roy Chowdhury and Edel Bete to deliver for ATK in the first season. Bete, a former goalie with PSG, had joined the pre-season camp in Madrid overweight and the goalkeepers’ coach had to prepare a diet chart for him as well.
In season 2, young Indian goalie Amrinder Singh got noticed. Singh, 23, is now India’s No.3 goalie behind Gurpreet Sandhu and Subrata Pal. Singh played 13 games for ATK in ISL2, Habas preferring him over Calatayud who had played in the La Liga and won the league in Hungary.
“In the time he’s been with us, Amrinder’s become stronger, braver and a better communicator with his backline,” Bhaktawer had told HT in November 2015. The goalkeepers’ coach had said he would like to work with Singh separately after the ISL because some areas such as punching and leaving his line need improvement.
With Singh joining Bengaluru FC and likely to play for Mumbai City FC in ISL3 that wouldn’t have happened but having signed Paul and Majumdar, bench-warmers at Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City FC last term respectively, it would be an understatement to say that ATK need a goalkeepers’ coach at the earliest.