Hindustantimes wants to start sending you push notifications. Click allow to subscribe

ATK Mohun Bagan and the anatomy of a disaster

Questions need to be asked whether the expensively assembled teams prepared adequately for the AFC Cup inter-zonal semi-final.
PREMIUM
ATKMB (in white) defending against Uzbekistan's Nasaf in their 6-0 loss Credit ATKMB(Twitter)
Published on Sep 23, 2021 08:55 PM IST

Antonio Lopez Habas is rarely seen in a blazer. What happened to his team on Wednesday was rarer.

Never before in over 90 games since the Indian Super League (ISL) began in 2014, has a team coached by Habas lost 0-6. Never before has a player scored a hattrick against an Indian team managed by the wily Spaniard who has two ISL titles. Both happened at Markaziy Stadium in Karshi, Uzbekistan, when FC Nasaf tore ATK Mohun Bagan to shreds on way to a 6-0 win in the inter-zonal semi-final of the 2021 AFC Cup. 

Runners-up in the last ISL, ATK Mohun Bagan had zero shots on target. On a night Nasaf, egged on by a loud crowd, hummed with activity, Bagan were either a hollow version of the team that lost the ISL final by a late Mumbai City FC goal or it was a true reflection of the strength of India’s top league. In ISL, Habas’ teams are known for defensive discipline, the ability to win by the narrowest margins. Bagan won seven league games 1-0 last term. 

But the ISL is also about teams with a huge churn of players and coaches meaning neither really get time to settle down. Also, Nasaf had played 18 games in the Uzbekistan Super League by the time Bagan, who have featured in only three this season, came calling. Uzbekistan’s league is ranked seventh by the Asian Football Confederation; India’s 17th. In the latest Fifa rankings, Uzbekistan are 84th, India 107th. So this would have been the most difficult game Habas’s team would have played since ATK and Mohun Bagan fused into one in 2020. 

RELATED STORIES

Conversely, it is also true that Bagan have assembled an expensive array of stars, one that includes Finnish midfielder Joni Kauko who played Euro 2020. Roy Krishna, a former Fiji captain and golden boot winner in Australia’s A-League, was leading the line and had his former Wellington Phoenix teammate David Williams on the left side of the midfield. Carl McHugh, who can play in defence and midfield, has been with Reading and led Motherwell. Pritam Kotal, Amrinder Singh, Subhasish Bose and Manvir Singh are almost always on India head coach Igor Stimac’s list of probables. 

So when Habas told the team’s media outlet that he was optimistic, it didn’t sound outlandish. “We have the power to beat Nasaf,” he said. The radio silence from the team is possibly because at no point did Bagan come remotely close to walking the coach’s talk. Kotal had to take one for the team, being booked in the second minute for bringing down 19-year-old Khusain Norchayev who completed a hattrick just after 30 minutes. By the fourth minute, Bagan were trailing through a self-goal. It was the beginning of a rout. 

While no coach can guarantee victory – Habas’s words – the capitulation does call into question whether Bagan’s preparation was adequate. Especially against a team which has footballers who can change the colour of a match in no time (Habas again). For this match, Bagan had a six-day camp in Dubai, the players’ only connection with football since the group games ended on August 24. Rarely does a team give players a break after three games into the season and following a strenuous pre-season. But as the 130th Durand Cup happened in Kolkata and the Kolkata league, Bagan sent players on vacation. (Kolkata welcomes Durand Cup but Bagan, East Bengal skip it) They didn’t play friendlies in Dubai either. 

It could have been why Kauko hardly made an impression on his debut and why Bagan looked cold against a faster, fitter and more cohesive team. Left-back Bose and left central defender Kotal were repeatedly caught by 21-year-old wide right Akmal Mozgovoy. Kotal’s poor challenge on Bakhram Abdurakhimov led to a penalty and tracking back was a problem for the team till Nasaf stepped off the gas after scoring five in the first half. 

Manvir Singh couldn’t reach an easy ball in the 30th minute. Thrice before that Sheikh Sahil found close passes from Lenny Rodrigues and one from McHugh overcooked. It could be because prior to his first start of the season, Sahil played 285 minutes in ISL7 and was used as a substitute to run down the clock in two of the three AFC Cup group games. After being a regular at Mohun Bagan when they won the I-League in 2020, Sahil, 21, has barely had game time. 

As it is, ISL’s November-March season is very short – most leagues in Asia run for nearly nine months. In pre-Covid times, Bangaldesh’s league ran for almost seven. Nasaf, fifth in the league, are assured of 26 games in one competition; players in ISL barely get 20 all season. Whether ISL can align with most Asian leagues and whether players can get more games is beyond the control of ATK Mohun Bagan who don’t play again till November 19. But preparing a team for an Asian competition is not. And it is difficult to believe Bagan couldn’t have done any better to get ready for this game. 

In 2011, Nasaf beat Dempo 13-0 on aggregate on way to winning the AFC Cup. From then to now, from semi-professionalism to teams spending between 25-30 crore per season, not much has changed. Not just on the evidence of Bagan’s limp showing but also in looking beyond the first team for most ISL franchises. In three seasons since 2019, when ISL teams got an AFC Cup berth, only Bagan have gone beyond the group stage. It makes FC Goa’s fighting performance in the Asian Champions League seem like the exception than the norm.

Antonio Lopez Habas is rarely seen in a blazer. What happened to his team on Wednesday was rarer.

Never before in over 90 games since the Indian Super League (ISL) began in 2014, has a team coached by Habas lost 0-6. Never before has a player scored a hattrick against an Indian team managed by the wily Spaniard who has two ISL titles. Both happened at Markaziy Stadium in Karshi, Uzbekistan, when FC Nasaf tore ATK Mohun Bagan to shreds on way to a 6-0 win in the inter-zonal semi-final of the 2021 AFC Cup. 

Runners-up in the last ISL, ATK Mohun Bagan had zero shots on target. On a night Nasaf, egged on by a loud crowd, hummed with activity, Bagan were either a hollow version of the team that lost the ISL final by a late Mumbai City FC goal or it was a true reflection of the strength of India’s top league. In ISL, Habas’ teams are known for defensive discipline, the ability to win by the narrowest margins. Bagan won seven league games 1-0 last term. 

But the ISL is also about teams with a huge churn of players and coaches meaning neither really get time to settle down. Also, Nasaf had played 18 games in the Uzbekistan Super League by the time Bagan, who have featured in only three this season, came calling. Uzbekistan’s league is ranked seventh by the Asian Football Confederation; India’s 17th. In the latest Fifa rankings, Uzbekistan are 84th, India 107th. So this would have been the most difficult game Habas’s team would have played since ATK and Mohun Bagan fused into one in 2020. 

Conversely, it is also true that Bagan have assembled an expensive array of stars, one that includes Finnish midfielder Joni Kauko who played Euro 2020. Roy Krishna, a former Fiji captain and golden boot winner in Australia’s A-League, was leading the line and had his former Wellington Phoenix teammate David Williams on the left side of the midfield. Carl McHugh, who can play in defence and midfield, has been with Reading and led Motherwell. Pritam Kotal, Amrinder Singh, Subhasish Bose and Manvir Singh are almost always on India head coach Igor Stimac’s list of probables. 

RELATED STORIES

So when Habas told the team’s media outlet that he was optimistic, it didn’t sound outlandish. “We have the power to beat Nasaf,” he said. The radio silence from the team is possibly because at no point did Bagan come remotely close to walking the coach’s talk. Kotal had to take one for the team, being booked in the second minute for bringing down 19-year-old Khusain Norchayev who completed a hattrick just after 30 minutes. By the fourth minute, Bagan were trailing through a self-goal. It was the beginning of a rout. 

While no coach can guarantee victory – Habas’s words – the capitulation does call into question whether Bagan’s preparation was adequate. Especially against a team which has footballers who can change the colour of a match in no time (Habas again). For this match, Bagan had a six-day camp in Dubai, the players’ only connection with football since the group games ended on August 24. Rarely does a team give players a break after three games into the season and following a strenuous pre-season. But as the 130th Durand Cup happened in Kolkata and the Kolkata league, Bagan sent players on vacation. (Kolkata welcomes Durand Cup but Bagan, East Bengal skip it) They didn’t play friendlies in Dubai either. 

It could have been why Kauko hardly made an impression on his debut and why Bagan looked cold against a faster, fitter and more cohesive team. Left-back Bose and left central defender Kotal were repeatedly caught by 21-year-old wide right Akmal Mozgovoy. Kotal’s poor challenge on Bakhram Abdurakhimov led to a penalty and tracking back was a problem for the team till Nasaf stepped off the gas after scoring five in the first half. 

Manvir Singh couldn’t reach an easy ball in the 30th minute. Thrice before that Sheikh Sahil found close passes from Lenny Rodrigues and one from McHugh overcooked. It could be because prior to his first start of the season, Sahil played 285 minutes in ISL7 and was used as a substitute to run down the clock in two of the three AFC Cup group games. After being a regular at Mohun Bagan when they won the I-League in 2020, Sahil, 21, has barely had game time. 

As it is, ISL’s November-March season is very short – most leagues in Asia run for nearly nine months. In pre-Covid times, Bangaldesh’s league ran for almost seven. Nasaf, fifth in the league, are assured of 26 games in one competition; players in ISL barely get 20 all season. Whether ISL can align with most Asian leagues and whether players can get more games is beyond the control of ATK Mohun Bagan who don’t play again till November 19. But preparing a team for an Asian competition is not. And it is difficult to believe Bagan couldn’t have done any better to get ready for this game. 

In 2011, Nasaf beat Dempo 13-0 on aggregate on way to winning the AFC Cup. From then to now, from semi-professionalism to teams spending between 25-30 crore per season, not much has changed. Not just on the evidence of Bagan’s limp showing but also in looking beyond the first team for most ISL franchises. In three seasons since 2019, when ISL teams got an AFC Cup berth, only Bagan have gone beyond the group stage. It makes FC Goa’s fighting performance in the Asian Champions League seem like the exception than the norm.

Enjoy unlimited digital access

Subscribe Now to continue reading
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
This site uses cookies

This site and its partners use technology such as cookies to personalize content and ads and analyse traffic. By using this site you agree to its privacy policy. You can change your mind and revisit your choices at anytime in future.

OPEN APP