Atletico de Kolkata: A tale of sheer frustration
In life, there are a number of things that frustrate you. Take for example the soda that just fizzes out on opening the bottle without any apparent fault of yours, watching Rohit Sharma bat for the Indian test team or as more apparent in recent times, the elections results from countries across the world which might have just made you wonder “is it all worth it?”
For the football crazy city of Kolkata and its fans, “frustration” can be the terms that can easily express their feeling of watching their beloved Atletico de Kolkata play. One bad day; you shrug it off as just that. Another one; would have you hoping for better ones to come. However, once they start flowing one after the other, your guts start wrenching and you start questioning.
A quick look at the table and you might just wonder why this rant about a team that is placed third on the table at the time of writing. However, another minute on the same table will give anyone a genuine reason for concern. They are one point off the team at sixth place, and if their recent is anything to go by, they should be looking more behind their shoulder with palpable breaths rather than looking up at the summit to challenge for top spot.
One and half months into the season of the Indian Super League and they remain what they were at the beginning of the campaign – a mystery. A team that seems to have more questions than answers, a team that has shown that it can grit out a result yet one can’t overlook the fact that they have failed time and again to come up big when the going got tough.
A case in point
And the last game against Chennaiyin was a perfect example. Playing away from home doesn’t seem to be a problem for the side. On the contrary, they have managed to garner more points away from home. The gritty draw against Mumbai, the craft play against the most balanced side of the tournament viz. Delhi Dynamos or the come from behind win against NorthEast United. All these games have shown that the team certainly has the character, but when it comes to actually delivering the killer blow, time and time again they have lacked the oomph.
And that’s where much of the frustration originates from. A look at Kolkata’s last game would be a perfect case for the same and if you are a fan no one would blame you if came out at the end of ninety as the champion of expletives.
The finishing as has been the case all around the league was abysmal, and that led to a one-goal lead at the end of the game, and that’s what led them to have a one goal lead going into halftime instead of probably three and most definitely two.
I would pay a good amount to listen to the halftime speeches Molina gives to his team. “Okay. Well done lads. More of the same please,” should have been the words that Molina probably would have spoken. But with how much conviction? That will surely remain a mystery as the team that disappeared into the tunnel, and the one that came out looked nowhere the same except on paper.
The body language was as flaccid as it could be and as they looked towards their coach, he seemed to be bewildered as well. And that reflected in both his tactics as well as substitutions. When Henrique Sereno went down with an injury, it was certainly a moment of concern for Kolkata. And to many people’s dismay Kingshuk Debnath was brought to replace the Portuguese, giving the man from Mohun Bagan his first minutes in this year’s Indian Super League.
And within minutes, Molina seemed not so sure about his instincts and made a quick decision to bring on Oftense Nato with Tiri unavailable as Atletico went to a back five and looked to shut up shop with 20 minutes remaining in the game. Eventually, they rode out of the storm with a “precious one point” as Molina would term it.
To sum it up all up, they let the hosts back in, dominate and eventually should be called lucky not to have lost the game.
Molina’s insecurities and the way forward
I have been a firm believer that players on the pitch have a lot more influence on the proceedings than the man on the sidelines. And before heading off to behead the manager, one should take a detailed look at how the eleven on the pitch have fared because more often than not it comes down to execution.
The team which has in each of its past years in the ISL qualified for the playoff under Antonio Habas and in doing so have developed a staunch characteristic about it. It had a strong Spanish flavour in its play which consisted of grit mixed with long spells of possession.
The former Villareal manager seems to have inherited some of that with the core of the team still intact (they have retained Hume, Nato, Borja, Arnab Mondal, Javi Lara and Tiri amongst others). And when Molina took over, he guaranteed an aggressive brand of football, which had all in Kolkata feeling giddy. But the goals have certainly not been forthcoming. However, when questioned, he referred to the ‘shots on target’ column, on which, admittedly they are placed second.
So a benefit of doubt on the same can be given to the Spaniard. And the Spaniard certainly has tried to change it around. Whether it be playing Iain Hume all across the frontline or making wholesome changes to the back. In fact, no one except Borja Fernandes and Debjit Majumdar has started all games. And yet in all this, Kolkata are still struggling.
Struggling to find consistency, the right balance and sometimes even the right mentality heading into games. A lot of it, I have to say stems from the indecisiveness of the coach.
Kolkata still don't know the answer as to who would be Borja’s ideal partner or who is their number one defender. It’s even bemusing to see that for a Spaniard to depend so much on crosses into the box as a primary threat. But that just may be horses for courses stuff.
But when all said and done, it’s frustrating. And that’s the only way that can be put. Whether it be Iain Hume’s form or defensive lapses that have cost them dear. While they certainly have produced moments of magic (goals from Lara and Doutie), spells of exciting football (second half away to NorthEast), the joy from the City of Joy has gone out when it comes to watching their team play. And that needs quick fixing.
If the blood boiling exercise of standing in long queues to withdraw cash was not enough of an exercise to test the patience of the people, they have had to watch with bated breath for their Atletico side to pull off a last-minute goal for a point or to hold on for one too many times. And if they are to qualify for the playoffs for the third time running, they need to make some bold decisions and decisive steps towards rejuvenating a team that has the talent but lacks inspiration.
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