Why big spenders ATK faltered in Indian Super League Season 5?
Out of contention for the semi-finals for the second successive season, ATK, who meet a resurgent Delhi Dynamos in the Indian Super League (season 5) in Kolkata on Sunday, assembled one of the most expensive rosters in the competition. Coach Steve Coppell said it was good enough to make the play-offs.
In terms of spend on players only Bengaluru FC would come close to ATK. But while Bengaluru FC have, according to Coppell, bossed the league, the best ATK can finish is sixth. That would be an improvement on ending ninth in 2017-18 but at around Rs 17 crore on players, it wouldn’t really count.
Last season, ATK spent nearly Rs 17.19 crore, said officials at different clubs this paper spoke to. The officials requested anonymity because they are not authorised to share figures.
The players’ salary cap is Rs 17.5 crore. This term too, having got new foreigners and retained only six Indians, ATK have spent almost as much, especially after signing playmaker Edu Garcia, from China’s Zhejiang Greentown and Pritam Kotal from Delhi Dynamos in January.
In Manuel Lanzarote, they already had one of the most expensive players in ISL 5, said to be around Rs 4 crore. Add to that the coming and going of Emiliano Alfaro, Eli Babalj and Noussair El Maimouni and ATK’s wage bill would be one of the highest.
The goals-scored or goal-conceded columns don’t reflect this though. Going into the game against Dynamos, who are unbeaten in the last six rounds and a win from sealing a direct qualification to the Super Cup, ATK have scored 16 goals, the same as cellar team Chennaiyin FC. “We’ve had issues this season with centre-forward and balance in squad,” said Coppell in Kolkata on Saturday. He was referring to the injury to striker Kalu Uche and his replacement Alfaro who hurt his Achilles at training.
“We lacked someone like Coro (Ferran Corominas) or (Bartholomew) Ogbeche. Lack of goals has been our downfall…In recent games, we have also been found wanting because of lack of pace at the back,” he said.
Asked why a striker wasn’t signed in January, Coppell said: “I am not sure I can answer that.” Earlier, he said that barring three foreigners, he had no say in players’ selection this term. “Recruitment is at least 80% of success in most leagues,” he said.
Stating that he hasn’t done enough to keep his job, Coppell said: “Barring Bengaluru, consistency is a big issue for teams. To be consistent, clubs have to retain and develop their key international players.” Doing that helped ATK win two ISL trophies, in 2014 and 2016, and play the semi-finals in 2015.