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With new Indian players, new coach former champs ATK seek new beginning

Their struggles to retain players and coach are well documented and yet Atletico Madrid have managed to retain Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann. Nearly 9000km away, Atletico de Kolkata, part-owned by the Madrid giants, though is looking to start anew in ISL3.

football Updated: Jul 16, 2016 13:33 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
football,isl,atletico de kolkata
Former Fleetwood Town forward Iain Hume continue to play for Atletico de Kolkata in ISL 3.(Getty Images)

Their struggles to retain players and coach are well documented and yet Atletico Madrid have managed to retain Diego Simeone and Antoine Griezmann.

Simeone, their inspirational coach, has decided to extend his stay till 2020 and Griezmann till 2021. “I’m very satisfied, very happy to keep belonging to this family and this project,” Griezmann, the Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016, was quoted as saying in The Guardian last month explaining why he kept the faith in the Champions League runners-up reportedly ignoring interest from PSG and Manchester United.

Nearly 9000km away, Atletico de Kolkata, part-owned by the Madrid giants, though are looking to start anew in ISL3. With a new coach, a nearly new set of Indian players and a new marquee.

The hunt for a new coach was prompted by Antonio Lopez Habas reportedly pricing himself out of the budget and joining FC Pune City. On Friday afternoon, the franchise presented Jose Fransico Molina Jiminez, 45, as replacement. The former goalkeeper has played 415 La Liga matches, most of them for Atletico Madrid and Deportivo la Coruna. He has also played nine times for Spain.

After Luis Garcia and Helder Postiga, they will also have a new marquee and Diego Forlan is said to be among those being considered.

But while they have retained a number of foreigners, the only Indians from last term, when Atletico de Kolkata were the first to make the semi-finals, so far are India central defender Arnab Mondal and midfielder Jewel Raja. Defender Kingshuk Debnath returns to the franchise after a largely fruitless stint at Mumbai City FC where he played a total of 139 minutes in ISL2.

So far, Atletico de Kolkata, who won the first edition of the ISL, have signed 12 Indians. “It is likely that even the rest of the slots would be filled by new players,” said a team official requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Given that the performance last term wasn’t bad; such wholesale changes do seem surprising, especially as teams usually aspire for continuity. Champions Chennaiyin FC, who lost thrice in four games with Atletico de Kolkata in ISL2, are likely to retain most players and have already renewed the deal with coach Marco Materazzi making the Italian World Cup winner the only one so far to helm the same team in the ISL.

Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group and majority stake holder in the team where Sourav Ganguly is also a co-owner, though rightly pointed out that the core of the team has been retained. “This is a subjective matter and there will be any number of interpretations as to why a certain player has been selected and another not retained. But our selection committee felt that these players are the best available and hence they were chosen,” he said, at the event where Molina was presented.

Goenka didn’t elaborate on who comprised the selection committee for a franchise where former Mohun Bagan star Jose Barreto helped choose Indians in the first season and Bhaichung Bhutia appointed consultant to do that in 2015. The new coach, Goenka said, was not involved in the selection of Indian players.

New rule

For the first time though teams have the option of replacing Indian players even if they are not injured but that can happen only twice, before the fifth and 10th rounds.

Each franchise must have at least 14 Indians on the 25-player roster and the number can go up to 16, according to the rules. They can sign a maximum of 11 imports including the marquee. Each franchise has a salary cap of R 17.5 crore but that doesn’t include the marquee for whom no price is too high.

Barring two or three Indian footballers who may have asked for more than what Atletico de Kolkata thought they were worth, retaining Indian players wasn’t about money. “Indian players would roughly comprise only 15% of the salary budget,” said the official.

Leaning towards Bagan, EB

What, however, is clear that Atletico de Kolkata have decided to fill most of their quota of Indian players from Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Barring Mondal, midfielders Bikash Jairu, who was signed from FC Pune City, and Bikramjit Singh (FC Goa), though no one was regular in ISL2. And wide midfielder Lalrindika Ralte is returning after missing most of 2015-16 with an injury sustained during pre-seasons with East Bengal.

There is no one in the squad yet from I-League champions Bengaluru FC. Among the dozen signed so far only Mondal, Pritam Kotal and Jairu were part of the India roster that won the 2015 SAFF Cup. Jairu wasn’t part of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers against Laos which India won home and away.

Continuity with imports

With foreign players though, Atletico de Kolkata have pitched for continuity. Key goalscorer Iain Hume will play his second season in Kolkata as will midfielder Sameehg Doutie and central defender Tiri. Defensive midfielder Oftense Nato will be in an Atletico de Kolkata shirt for the third season, the only foreigner to do so for them so far.

With each team allowed to field six foreigners, it is true that the contingent of imports could play a crucial role. Time will tell whether Atletico de Kolkata have gambled by choosing a virtually new set of Indians.

It’s a situation Molina said he was okay with. “You have to accept change when you join a new team. It is important that we grow and develop young Indian players into good footballers,” he said.

New Indian signings for Atletico de Kolkata: Goalkeepers: Shilton Paul, Debjit Majumdar; Defenders: Kingshuk Debnath, Robert Lathlamuana, Prabir Das. Midfielders: Bikramjit Singh, Bikash Jairu, Lalrindika Ralte.

Imports signed so far: Goalkeeper: Dani Mallo. Defender: Tiri, Pablo Gallardo. Midfielders: Sameehg Doutie, Stephen Pearson (from Kerala Blasters), Oftense Nato. Striker: Iain Hume.

First Published: Jul 15, 2016 11:03 IST