“It will be like comparing two girlfriends, it’s just not fair,” quipped an emotional Antonio Habas when he was asked to compare the current Atletico de Kolkata side to the ones he had managed in the previous seasons. In a league which has little history given its small time of existence, Antonio Habas and Atletico de Kolkata certainly is one of the most romantic ones it has. And his return to the city which he once called “home” and facing a team he once sculpted into champions should certainly be one to catch the eyes.
After becoming one of the most successful coaches in ISL history these past two years with Atletico, Habas has failed to capture the imagination with his new team FC Pune City. The Stallions who are now out of contention for the playoffs for the third time running never quite got into their strides and now have to look back at this campaign as another story of “what could have been”.
The 59-year-old has been associated with the Indian Super League all three years of its existence. After leading Atletico de Kolkata to the title in the league’s inaugural season, the Spaniard was followed that up with another top four finish with Kolkata last season despite losing marquee star Helder Postiga 72 minutes into the season.
FC Pune City are now out of contention for the playoffs for the third time running and in their last match of the campaign, they are set to take on Kolkata as they seek to salvage some pride in a season that never quite took off for the Stallions. However, for Habas, it means much more as he comes back to the city that he once called home.
Waited for ATK's call
However, in a revealing statement, Habas confirmed that he was, in fact, looking forward to taking the reins at Kolkata for a third season running, but it never materialised.
Speaking on the topic, the ex-ATK coach iterated, “Of course I was interested. The truth I was waiting for their call but that never came.”
Habas has, however, fond memories of Kolkata and wanted to thank everyone who had come out the earlier years to scream their lungs out to support the team from the City of Joy.
“I want to thank each and everyone who came to the Salt Lake stadium the previous two seasons and supported Atletico. I am proud of having been your coach. It was an honour,” quipped the Spaniard. “The return is, of course, special. This city is special for me. But that will only last till the game starts. Once the referee blows his whistle, it will just be another game for me.”
Injuries and suspensions have crippled Pune
Pune had finally thought they had built a team that could challenge for top honours this season when they brought in the likes of Eidur Gudjohnsen to head Habas’ scheme of things. However, only a few days ahead of the start of the league, the former Chelsea and Barcelona man had to pull out of the tournament with an injury.
“We had to deal with a lot of injuries, we saw Eidur (Gudjohnsen) pull out only a few days before the tournament. We had some other injury troubles as well.
“I was suspended from the sidelines for the first four games as well and all these things had an adverse effect”
Optimistic of Pune’s future
Habas, however, was optimistic about the direction the club is taking and felt that there needs to be continuity in the side for success in the future.
“We are a new team. 90% of the squad are new. So it takes time for everything to gel. If you look at Kolkata, 80% of the players are the same. We have to identify the players we wanna keep and convince the management to do the same,” opined the former Valencia manager.
And the manager will certainly look to go out on a flurry and inflict yet another disappointment on the Kolkata team which has won only one game in its new home ground, the Rabindra Sarobar stadium.
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