The 7th season of ISL, also incidentally the debut season of ATK Mohun Bagan was a bittersweet journey for the Mariners. After a well-founded league campaign, the Mariners needed a point in their final league game against Mumbai City FC to secure a spot in the AFC Champions League but they succumbed to the Islanders 2-0. The Mariners had the opportunity to forget the blemish of missing out on Champions League football by lifting the ISL 7 trophy but once again Sergio Lobera and his Mumbai side proved too good for Habas’ ATK Mohun Bagan as Mumbai City lifted their maiden ISL trophy beating Bagan 2-1 in the finals.
After the disappointment of last season where the Mariners were so close yet so far, ATK Mohun Bagan have strengthened over the summer keeping their core group intact. Antonio Lopez Habas will once again be in charge for the Kolkata giants along with Tiri, Carl McHugh, David Williams and Roy Krishna who will once again don the hallowed green maroon this season. The Mariners let go of Javi Hernandez and Edu Garcia, along with Brad Inman and Marcelinho. The Bagan recruitment team caused a stir when they were able to secure the signature of Finnish midfielder Joni Kauko, who rubbed shoulders with some of the best in the world in Euro 2020. While the Joni Kauko signing got the Mariners excited, ATK Mohun Bagan wasn’t done and they shook Indian football when they paid more than 2 crores to Mumbai City FC to take Hugo Boumous away from the defending champions to the City of Joy.
The 30-year-old Spanish defender is all set for his 7th season in Indian football. With the combination of Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan at the heart of their defence last season, ATK Mohun Bagan only let in 15 goals, the least conceded by any team in the league. With Sandesh moving to Croatia for the upcoming season, Tiri will have to take over the responsibility of being the leader in Habas’ defensive unit.
While the Spaniard could now very well be called a veteran of Indian football, Tiri has the experience of playing in the Segunda Division B in Spain with Cadiz B and Atletico Madrid B. He moved to India on loan from Atletico Madrid B to play for now-defunct ATK in the second ISL season. He returned on loan again in 2016 to ATK before signing for Marbella in the third division of Spanish football. Tiri signed for Jamshedpur FC in their debut ISL season in 2017 and stayed with the Red miners for 3 seasons before moving back to Kolkata with ATK Mohun Bagan last season.
Habas likes to set up his team defensively with 3 in the back and two wing-backs and looks to hit the opposition on a fast counter expecting his defence to absorb pressure for most of the game. With Sandesh’s move Hnk Sibenik, the Mariners tried to bring in Sana Singh from Hyderabad, but the Nizams resisted their big offer. While Bagan has brought in Asuthosh Mehta from North East and have Sumit Rathi, Pritam Kotal and Subhasish Bose in their ranks, Tiri will have to be the anchor around which Habas is likely to devise his plans.
The versatile Irish holding midfielder is an ace up any manager’s sleeve. McHugh who is a holding midfielder by position can also handle himself at central defence as seen in the Mariner’s AFC Cup campaign. With Tiri missing, McHugh is deputizing as Bagan’s central defender in Habas’ back three. The Irish midfielder is set for his third season in Indian football and carries the vast experience of playing in leagues in the United Kingdom. McHugh made his debut in India in 2019 under Habas for ATK before an injury cut his maiden season in the ISL short. He played only 6 games in 2019 but impressed Habas enough to warrant a new contract at ATK Mohun Bagan in 2020 and checked in more than 1800 minutes for the Kolkata giants, providing 2 assists.
Before his move to India, McHugh started his footballing journey in Reading at the age of 16. His first professional experience as a footballer started with Bradford City in 2012 when he represented the club in their dream run to the League Cup final in 2013 which he played in. McHugh moved to Plymouth Argyle in 2014 because of lack of game time at Bradford in the 2013-14 season and stayed with the Pilgrims for 2 seasons before moving to Scotland to join Motherwell in 2016. McHugh went on to captain Motherwell for the 2017-18 season before giving up his captaincy in 2018 and moving to Kolkata in 2019.
McHugh could very well find himself this season operating mostly as a defender if Habas fails to find the perfect partner for Tiri and Pritam in his 3 man defence. While ATK Mohun Bagan has brought in Deepak Tangri from Chennaiyin and has retained Sk. Sahil and Lenny Rodrigues to ease the workload on McHugh at central midfield, which could eventually mean that the 28-year-old Irish international plays more as a defender this season.