For most of the conversation with Antonio Lopez Habas, Zico is the elephant in the room. Acknowledgment of the Brazilian legend came only when the Atletico de Kolkata coach agreed to disagree with one of Zico's numerous opinions on the Indian Super League (ISL). But about that later. Early in the interview with HT on Thursday, the 57-year-old said he is struggling to live down the two-match suspended sentence for 'offensive behaviour' that keeps him under the scanner for the rest of the league.
"It is not right to ban someone and then warn him too. They found no proof against me when they reviewed the incident," said Habas, with Atletico de Kolkata fitness coach Miguel Martinez being the interpreter.
"As a coach, I know what to do and that makes accepting the sentence more difficult," said Habas who has already served a two-match touchline ban. This was the first time in a 24-year career as coach that Habas has had such a ban, said Martinez. That happened after he was charged with misbehaving during the match to FC Goa, although Zico's charge that Habas punched Robert Pires couldn't be proved.
Habas, who said he agreed to this two-year contract while working at Atletico Madrid's academy because the La Liga champions were backing this 'project', also said the ISL could re-look the players' draft system. "The international draft is not the best. If there has to be a draft, it must be restricted to Indian under-21 or under-23 players because this, after all, is about development of Indian football."
One day before the ISL leaders host second-placed Chennaiyin FC, Habas also said the artificial turf is being used as an excuse by visiting teams. "All the teams are playing just once here. We are playing seven times; our players too are used to playing on natural grass. And that explains why we have done better away," Habas said.
Having stonewalled previous references to Zico, Habas finally reacted to the FC Goa coach repeatedly saying that the number of Indians in the first 11 should increase from five. "I understand why he is saying that; even (Vicente) del Bosque (Spain's national coach) says that about the La Liga. Here, the idea is to first promote football. Once the league is stable, this can be done," said Habas.