Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) have followed contrasting policies this term when it came to recruiting players. They have released all but two of their Indian players but retained seven of the 11 foreigners who helped them make the semi-finals in the 2015 Indian Super League (ISL). And they still have a foreigners’ slot left.
The policy is in sync with a competition that, despite being named the Indian Super League (ISL), allows six imports in the playing 11. It also shows that the franchise has been able to negate the pull of former coach Antonio Lopez Habas who will be at FC Pune City in this year’s ISL. A number of foreign players at ATK had been handpicked over the past two seasons by Habas but so far, none have moved west with the Spaniard. Indian players Agustine Fernandes and Izumi Arata though have.
So far, goalkeeper Dani Mallo, defender Pablo Gallardo and midfielder Stephen Bywater from Kerala Blasters are the new foreigners.
On Friday, ATK confirmed that Helder Postiga would stay marquee for ISL-3 and renewed deals with Borja Fernandez and Javi Lara. They also announced that East Bengal’s Abhinash Ruidas and Mumbai City FC’s Keegan Pereira have signed on, taking the number of Indian players on their list to 14.
HT had reported on July 29 that Postiga could be retained after the club’s talks with Diego Forlan had collapsed. The former Uruguay and Atletico Madrid star is likely to join another ISL franchise though, reportedly for a price way above what ATK were offering.
What is significant is that Fernandez, 35, has been given a contract for the third straight year by the only club outside Spain he’s played for. The former Real Madrid player, who turned out for Eibar in La Liga soon after winning ISL-1 in 2014, was a key component for Habas, playing 15 games the second season and all 17 in Season 1. After ISL-2, he joined Valladolid till the end of the 2015-16 season.
Fernandez’s partnership in central midfield with Botswana international Ofentse Nato, the only other foreigner in his third season for the franchise, was crucial to ATK’s consistency and that combination has been given an extension even though they will have a new coach in Jose Molina this time.
ATK have also been able to get Lara for another season. Lara, 30, played in only six games last term after being ruled out by a groin injury. His ability to be a wide left midfielder and operate in central midfield would give Molina options. Like Fernandez, Lara played in the Spanish second division with Tenerife this year.
Postiga, 34, returns after the briefest of stints in ISL-2 where he suffered a hamstring injury after 74 minutes of the opening game, away to Chennaiyin FC. Postiga’s career has been blighted by a number of hamstring injuries but he too played in the later part of the European club season having joined Rio Ave in the Portuguese top tier. They finished sixth and in 10 games, Postiga scored five goals.
”Postiga is a big name for any team and his presence will definitely bolster the team for the season ahead and also allow the Indian and International players to learn from him about the way he goes about preparing for a major tournament like ISL,” said Molina through a media release from ATK on Friday afternoon.
“He has been playing good football of late and we hope he will be in his finest form once he is in India,” he added. “Along with Postiga the presence of Borja and Javi will add fervour to the midfield. Borja had been the mainstay for the team’s midfield and orchestrated many moves which yielded positive results in the last two seasons. I am enthusiastic with two more Indian players like Keegan and Abinash who will be donning our colours and eagerly looking forward to the pre-season now in Spain.”
A franchise must have at least 14 Indians on the 25-player roster. Each franchise has a salary cap of Rs. 21 crore but that doesn’t include the marquee for whom no price is too high.
Arnab Mondal and Jewel Raja have been retained in the list of Indians released by ATK so far. Defender Kingshuk Debnath returns after playing ISL2 for Mumbai City FC.
ATK’s roster so far (24 players including 14 Indians):
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumdar, Shilton Paul, Dani Mallo (Spain)
Defenders: Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das, Robert Lalthlamuana, Kingshuk Debnath, Arnab Mondal, Tiri (Spain), Pablo Gallardo (Spain), Keegan Pereira
Midfielders: Lalrindika Ralte, Bikash Jairu, Bikramjit Singh, Jewel Raja, Bidyananda Singh, Borja Fernandez (Spain), Otentse Nato (Botswana), Sameehg Doutie (South Africa), Stephen Pearson (Scotland), Javi Lara (Spain), Abhinash Ruidas
Forwards: Iain Hume (Canada), Helder Postiga (Portugal).