Sunday, June 4, 2023

Antonio López Habas, ATK Mohun Bagan FC and The million dollar question: Can they lift the trophy for a record 4th time this season?

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Confidence and expectations are high in the ATK Mohun Bagan camp, with the fans hoping that the club lifts the trophy for a record fourth time when the edition of the seventh season comes to an end. Can Antonio López Habas make this dream come true? 

Atk MOhun Bagan champions of 2019-2020

On the cold Saturday night of March 14, Uzbek official Kasimov Sharzod blew the final whistle in the unpacked Fatorda ground decisively concluding the electrifying encounter that witnessed ATK unfolding as ISL champions for the third time in six seasons. After crushing their southernmost counterpart (Chennayin FC) ATK appears to be quite optimistic for the impending Hero Indian Super League 2020-21, and much has to be attributed to their returning head coach, Antonio López Habas.

The Spaniard Antonio López Habas led the Kolkata-based club to the coveted trophy in the inaugural season too, beating FC Goa in the semi-finals and Kerala Blasters FC in the endmost finale. The two-time winning head coach, Antonio López Habas expects an appreciable future for the club after the fusion between ATK and Mohun Bagan was approved in July this year. The Pozoblanco born former centre back believes that retaining Mohun Bagan’s iconic maroon and green colours adds 131 years of history to the club.

Antonio Lopez Habas during a press meet

Antonio López Habas possesses, what we can say, a highly prolific football career in a defensive role. He was born in Pozoblanco, Spain on 28th of May 1957. Antonio had an unassuming career as a professional footballer, making 48 La Liga match appearances in the course of four seasons. However, he officially made an untimely and prompt retirement as a professional player in the early age of 29. 

Antonio López Habas started coaching in the early 1990s, with Atlético Madrid’s reserves. In 1995, he was appointed for the managerial role in Valencia. After one season apiece in amateur football he took charge of the Bolivian national team, first as an assistant to Xabier Azkargorta, and then eventually as their head coach in two Copa América tournaments. Bolivia featured as the runners up in 1997. In August 2014, Habas was named the head coach of ATK in the Indian Super League.

After a dip in form from midway through the season, he led his team to the semi-finals by drawing with Goa, meeting the same opponent once again and defeating them on penalties. In the decisive match, against Kerala Blasters FC, he even benched his marquee player Luis García and the compatriot Jofre, for which he was praised by critics and the side won thanks to a goal by Mohammed Rafique in extra time.

On 25 April 2016, the former Valencia manager was appointed for service at FC Pune City. On 16 September 2017, after a run-in with the board of directors, he left his position. And then finally on May 2019, López returned to ATK. In a final played behind closed doors, he won the national championship against Chennaiyin FC to become the first manager to achieve the feat twice with the same team.

However, after winning a second trophy in 2016 under head coach Jose Molina, the current Sporting Director of the Spanish National team, ATK fell to a slump in the consecutive seasons, failing to live up to the lofty standards they had set in the preceding seasons. But the return of Habas seems to have rejuvenated the side in all fronts.

Not only in the attacking front, but the 63-year-old coach has ensured there remains enough balance on both sides of the pitch. The aim to build a solid backline was evident with the arrival of full-back players like Pritam Kotal, Tiri, Subhasish Bose, Anas Edathodika and Sumit Rathi, whose strong performance saw him being adjudged as the ISL Emerging Player of the League last season.

Steps are being taken to ensure access to the best infrastructure and training sessions to compete in the international arena. Investments will be made to ensure refurbishment of the existing Mohun Bagan facility so that ISL and AFC home games can be staged effectively. Co-owner Sourav Ganguly said, “I salute the coming together of ATK and Mohun Bagan. Together the brand name ATK Mohun Bagan will create history.”

Confidence and expectations are high in the ATK Mohun Bagan camp, with the fans hoping that the club lifts the trophy for a record fourth time when the edition of the seventh season comes to an end. Can Antonio López Habas make this dream come true? 

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