ISL 2019-20: Will splashing the cash give ATK on-field success?
If you ask a bunch of ISL fans an objective question, the costliest assembled team for 2019-20 season, all of them would answer in unison one name, ATK. But, if you ask the same bunch a subjective one, whether they are favourites, not all would reply the same.
At a time when most of the ISL clubs are restricting their senior squad budget to facilitate their long-term goals, ATK has continued to splurge in the transfer market. They did so in the previous season too when former Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC head coach Steve Coppell was brought to helm the affairs.
They signed foreigners like Manuel Lanzarote, John Johnson, Kalu Uche, Everton Santos, Andre Bikey, and Gerson Vieira. Indian stalwarts Arindam Bhattacharya, Pronay Halder, and Balwant Singh followed too.
However, the desired result did not come. The team failed to reach the ISL play-offs and lost in the semi-finals of Super Cup. The season ended and ATK took the same approach yet again. This time on a bigger scscale.
Antonio Lopez Habas, the man who took them to glory in the inaugural season, is now back. The Australian A-League's top scorer Roy Krishna is now at the club too. Partnering him is his former Wellington Phoenix teammate David Williams.
Former Motherwell captain Carl McHugh has been brought in to dictate the midfield. Javi Hernandez and Agustin Iniguez, who are well-versed with the style of play the coach wants, add to the Spanish flavour.
ATK's new Indian signings are no strangers to stardom either. I-League top goalscorer Jobby Justin shifted his base from East Bengal. Michael Soosairaj, a heart-throb among Indian football fans for his dribbling skills, followed. Indian international Anas Edathodika is called in to bring stability to an astute defense. To top it all off, ATK has signed the prodigious goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem on a bumper five-year contract.
There is no dearth of quality in any department. Yet, football is a team game and its outcome isn't decided by the combined reputation of the individuals. They would require chemistry to click, something which was missing last season.
Even if they click, not many would predict that they could thrash a side like FC Goa despite the stark contrast in the budget. Last season's ISL runners-up will take the field with only six foreigners in their ranks, all of whom were retained and the Gaurs have signed no prominent Indian apart from Seiminlen Doungel. Even then, there is no shortage of talent and their passing and movement off the ball make them a nightmare for any opposition.
With a squad like this and a bold approach in the transfer market, ATK should have no trouble in reaching the playoffs of ISL, at least. Then again, everyone was of the same opinion last season too.
Will ATK prove their doubters wrong and show the fans that the stratagy of extravagant spending in the transfer market still breeds success? Or, have they ended up committing the same mistake yet again? We will have to wait for the season to get going before we can know for sure.