If there was one player in the Indian Super League who has been the embodiment of commitment, delivering effective results with consistency, it has been Iain Hume. The Canadian forward has the ability to take things on his shoulders and help propel the team to greater heights. First with Kerala Blasters and then with Atletico last season, Hume’s effort, as well as goals, have made him an endeared figure among the fans.
However, after two outstanding seasons in the Indian Super League, things seem to have gone a bit awry for Atletico de Kolkata’s poster boy. It is clear that the forward is struggling and there are no two ways about it. Coming off the back of a season that saw him score 11 goals, propelling a 'Helder Postiga'-less Kolkata side to the semi-final of the competition, things haven't quite clicked for the nimble-footed striker.
The 32-year-old’s only goal was from the penalty spot (which eventually clinched a vital point for Kolkata in their opener). However, he has been largely anonymous in Kolkata’s opening games. His struggles came to the fore even more during Kolkata’s last game, when he was substituted at half-time, a decision that was said to be purely “tactical” by the coach.
But if you had seen Hume, coming out of the locker room 15 minutes after the half had got underway in his casuals, the disappointment and the frustation was written large on his face. Hume has always had a positive impact on his team’s attacks even when the numbers haven’t shown up on his own numbers.
Even when the going got tough, he was the last man you would see fighting it out at the fag end of what many would otherwise call a “lost cause”. However, this time round the feeling that reverberates around the ATK camp seems different. There seems to be a big elephant in the room, which no one wants to talk about.
He seems to be the guy that has been left behind. “Fit” or “sacrifice” might be the typical explanation for this kind of a situation with suggestions that Hume’s game may be incompatible to the way new coach Jose Molina might want his team to play. Hints are there in the air that the number 7 might have to “suck it up”. Hume might just look like the imperfect fit in the Atletico side at the moment, but the issue isn’t the lack of sacrifice, it’s all he can do is sacrifice.
So where does the basic problem lie? It lies with what Hume is really good at what the coach has to offer at the moment. In the three games Kolkata has played, Molina has strongly suggested in the manner in which his team has lined up that he prefers a target man up front. Hence, when Postiga went down this time round, Belencoso was summoned to fill his gap up front, unlike last season which saw Hume lead the line under Antonio Habas.
In Molina’s system so far, the creative players have thrived. The players with finesse such as Borja, Javi Lara and Postiga (for the short time he has played) have been able to make an impact. Hume, on the hand, is a different breed. Thus, this creates an issue where Hume seems to have been told to “trim the fat” and get in line with what Molina has in store.
However, with Postiga being sidelined (AGAIN!) with an injury, Hume has seen himself been played out on the left time and again. Even when he played the number 10 role like the first half against Mumbai, he hasn’t been successful. The reason? Strategies and personnel.
To understand why Hume isn’t working well this season, you have to understand why he has worked in the previous ones and why fit just might not be the issue. Firstly you have to look where he was played in the last two seasons i.e. up front; a place he hasn’t yet been afforded by Molina and surprisingly so. Is he a better option than Belencoso? The answer is an obvious yes. However, the manager’s choice has been something that has been baffling at times.
For the one game Hume and Postiga played together, the Portuguese forward was able to not only lead the line but also come deep to receive the ball and spread play. That also involved intricate play with Hume who looked in on things. Belencoso, on the other hand, doesn’t have such attributes. Whilst a bigger target than Postiga, his forte seems to be in an around the box and his hold up play.
That led Hume to be suckered into being closer to him to effect play against Mumbai, a plan that backfired in royal fashion in the first half. A huge gap between the midfield and the front two meant that Mumbai midfield suckered up all the joys of possession in the opening stanzas of the game.
Whilst Kolkata were getting overrun in the midfield by Mumbai’s three-man midfield and the swift attacks, the Kolkata response was an effective yet surprising one. Whilst Molina pulled in Javi Lara from the sides and added an extra personnel, it was Hume who made way for the 2014 champions for Pearson’s introduction. The disappointment was written large on the face of the Canadian and understandably so.
The situation. And the solution?
Going into the rest of their games, Atletico have some tough decisions to make and take into the following consideration
- Hume is still an asset and his mere presence has defences across the league standing on their toes and take notice
- Molina himself has to find a style that suits him to the core and help get the best out of the players out of that.
The Atletico squad have been dealt some major blows with Postiga out for the time being (and maybe even for the season), Tiri uncertain to play and Offense Nato yet to get back to full fitness. Even the Indian options have to be accounted for in the coming games. While the absence of Bikash Jairu is another handicap for Kolkata, Molina would do well to trust some of the Indians in more advanced areas of the pitch.
Lalrindika Ralte has so far been criminally underutilized, whilst Molina can has not tried the likes of Prabir Das in more advanced wing areas (preferably the right) to combine with the enigmatic Sameehg Doutie, which opens up the option of taking Javi Lara infield where he has been mighty impressive so far this season.
The lack of trust in the likes of Robert and the lack of attacking options from the assortment of Indian players seems to have them in an unwanted position. The return of Jairu might help. And so will the coming of Keegan Perreira. But for the time being Molina has to do with what he has got and that is; a squad short on depth and a “player” in Iain Hume, who has looked terribly out of sorts.
Atletico de Kolkata have spent the last few days deep in contemplation and internal assessment. Two lucky deflections in the previous two games were lucky enough to give Atletico four precious points away from home. However, there were periods in both the games that would surely raise the need for introspection regarding both the tactic as well as players in the game.
Jose Molina's team looked shaken as well as stirred in the first half of their last game against Mumbai. The fluency of play and pace up front caused jitters in the Atletico backline and raised serious questions whether they are pretenders and not contenders.
When the team takes the field against winless FC Goa on Sunday, they will hope that these questions and doubts are put well behind them. And Iain Hume is one name that can help them do that.