ISL 2018-19: 'Success Relies on Recruitment and Bengaluru FC Have Best Players' - Steve Coppell

Steve Coppell, the ATK coach
Steve Coppell, the ATK coach

ATK endured a narrow 0-1 defeat at the hands of table-toppers Bengaluru FC at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the Indian Super League (ISL) on Thursday.

Bengaluru FC took the lead through Erik Paartalu's 37th-minute header and extended their unbeaten run in the league. Paartalu now has two goals in the season and both of them have come against ATK.

BFC are unbeaten in 11 games and have a six-point lead over second-placed Mumbai City going into the break.

Bengaluru FC have stretched their lead over second-placed Mumbai City FC to six points and go into the break unbeaten.

When asked what BFC are doing right, Coppell, who led Kerala Blasters to the ISL final in 2016, said:

"At least 80 per cent of a team's success is based on recruitment. And Bengaluru FC have recruited some top players.

"They have the best Indian goalkeeper (in Gurpreet Singh). They have the best Indian outfield player (in Sunil Chhetri). Those players make a huge difference.

"And the foreigners, particularly Miku, are powerful. They know how to play and they have a formula which is difficult to play against and very effective.

"They keep on doing it. It's a challenge - not just ATK but for other teams - to break the formula.

"How do you play and beat them? No one has done it yet. A great achievement. Nobody has beaten them yet.

"Everybody will try to beat them after the break. Somebody, at some stage, will figure a way and everyone else will copy them."

'Andre Bikey frustrated with ATK performance'

Andre Bikey of ATK attempts to clear the ball during the match against Bengaluru FC (Image: ISL)
Andre Bikey of ATK attempts to clear the ball during the match against Bengaluru FC (Image: ISL)

Seven minutes before the final whistle, with Bengaluru FC still leading, ATK manager Steve Coppell replaced defender Andre Bikey with midfielder Maimouni El Noussari.

Bikey stepped off the pitch and was handed a bottle of water. Seconds later, the Cameroonian crushed that bottle and rammed it into the ground in anger. Bikey was also seen arguing with the referee over a couple of decisions before he was substituted.

When quizzed Coppell what exactly transpired, the Englishman said:

"My back was turned so I didn't see him do that, to be honest. That particular moment, if we played four at the back, I thought we would lose the opportunity to put someone higher up the field.

"Maimouni is a good passer of the ball and the opportunities have been limited for him. I thought maybe a pass from him or a set-piece from the right foot might be impactful. That's why I brought him on.

"Andre was frustrated with the game because we played well and ended up with nothing for it."

On ATK's top-four hopes

ATK are rooted in the sixth spot on the table with 16 points from 12 games, three behind fourth-placed Jamshedpur FC.

When asked what ATK have to do to qualify for the ISL playoffs, Coppell said: "We need to score goals. If you look at our 'goals for', it's only 10.

"I am not using it as an excuse but it's a fact. We lost two centre-forwards - Kalu Uche and Emiliano Alfaro. It makes a big difference.

"That calm and quality in front of goal to convert opportunities, we need that. If we got one goal, we might have won this game.

"We have had a couple of 0-0 draws. A piece of individual brilliance from a striker can make the difference.

"BFC have had that with Sunil and Miku. We have to work hard for all our goals. Scoring a goal from nothing is what top quality strikers do.

"We have to score and massively improve our goal-scoring ratio. But as for our performance, I believe this team can win 4-5 games on the bounce."

'My philosophy is to win games'

ATK have had three goalless draws this season and just 10 goals to show for. Coppell is known to play a defensively solid team which goes into the attack mode only when a defeat is imminent.

Yet, ATK have a good chance - as much as the others - to win the ISL.

That's because the top four teams get to qualify for the playoffs and with just a couple of victories, ATK can garner enough points to be among the top four.

Coppell appears to have figured out a way to beat the system by snatching points from most of their fixtures and getting an upset here and there.

When asked if he would play his team differently if the league had no playoffs and just the winners, Coppell said: "No, I always try and win games. Even tonight, in the last 10 minutes, we were in three at the back because we wanted to push forward and win the match.

"You get an honour in a draw but the real joy of football is winning matches and that's what we got to try to do. We have to massively improve for the final six games."

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Edited by Rohith Nair
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