When in January 2020 it was announced that RPSG Group under the stewardship of Mr Sanjiv Goenka will attain 80% stake of Mohun Bagan and in ISL 2020/21 ATK and Mohun Bagan will be merged, the decision was received with scepticism among the fans of the 130-year-old club. Questions were raised if the legacy of Mohun Bagan will be compromised for the sake of modernization and professionalism. All these questions were laid to rest on 10th of June as the head honchos at RPSG announced that the hallowed Green and Maroon of Mohun Bagan was going to be retained along with its emblem, while the club will be known as ATK Mohun Bagan. Millions of Mariners, all around the world heaved a sigh of relief as the essence of the club they have supported through thick and thin, over generations was preserved. As a club, ATKMB will be starting their maiden ISL journey this season and they have spent the summer recruiting some of the finest Indian and foreign talents to their ranks. They have managed to rope in the likes of Brad Inman from Brisbane Roar, ISL veteran Tiri from Jamshedpur FC and probably the biggest coup of all being the signing of Sandesh Jhingan. Jhingan after terminating his contract with ISL outfit Kerala Blasters was the hottest property in the free agents market and was linked with every major club along with arch-rivals East Bengal, who too are joining the ISL this season. The likes of Roy Krishna, David Williams, Edu Garcia and Carl McHugh are all coming back for another season, this time to play wearing the prestigious Green and Maroon kit. ATKMB has a squad oozing with talent and Habas will have a task on his hands when it comes selecting the best 11 players to send out in the middle. Here’s a look as to how ATKMB could line up for this ISL.
When it comes to choosing a custodian under the bar, ATKMB is spoilt for choice. With someone like Dheeraj Singh whose goalkeeping performances during the U-17 World Cup in 2017 earned him plaudits from all around the world, along with a trial at Scottish side Motherwell. Avilash Paul also made the headlines during the 2017/18 season with his impressive performance at Aizwal FC and the 25-year-old will be keen to impress in ATKMB colours. But it is almost a no-brainer that Antonio Lopez Habas will be looking at Arindam Bhattacharya to keep the goals out. The 30-year-old is a veteran of Indian football with almost 13 years of experience both at the domestic and international level under his belt. Having played at some of the major clubs of Indian football, Arindam has had a journeyman footballing career, which started at Goa, followed by stints in Kolkata, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Arindam looks settled now and has been a mainstay at Kolkata for the last 3 years, turning out for ATK the last 2 seasons. Arindam had a brilliant season last year where he just conceded 17 goals in his 20 appearances and the fans will be looking for more of the same.
Pritam Kotal (RB), Tiri (CB-Spain), Sandesh Jhingan (CB), Subhasish Bose (LB)
ATKMB has splurged money to solidify their defence this season. With the signings of Tiri, Sandesh and Subhasish Bose they have literally bought themselves a new defensive lineup. While both Tiri and Subhasish have previously played in Kolkata and are aware of how intense it can get as a footballer in the city with all the pressure that comes from the adoration of the unbound fans, Sandesh is in for a treat. While playing for the Blasters, Jhingan has experienced jam-packed stadiums and immense fan adoration, but the volatile nature of the Kolkata football fan is something he will have to adapt to. Even the greats have faltered here and it will be interesting to see how Sandesh Jhingan copes with it. A Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri partnership at the heart of the defence has already got the fans excited to add to that, the Mariners are also animated about what has been dubbed as the homecoming of Subhasish Bose and Pritam Kotal. Both players started their careers with the Green and Maroon brigade and now are back once again donning the same colours. All four players have valuable ISL experience which will help them as well as ATKMB’s cause this season. A defence with these four guarding Arindam’s goal will be a tough nut to crack for the opposition.
Carl McHugh (CDM- Republic of Ireland), Prabir Das (RM), Michael Soosairaj (LM), Edu Garcia (CAM – Spain)
Carl McHugh has extended his stay in Kolkata till 2021. The Irish Defensive Midfielder who can also play as a Centre Back is very likely to be used by Habas as defensive screen ahead of his 4 man defence. McHugh had a great start to his debut season in India, with a goal against the Kerala Blasters in his first game, but he was only able to make 6 appearances as an injury cut his season short. But his performances had convinced the ATKMB think tank enough to warrant a contract extension and if he stays injury-free, he could play a pivotal role this season. Edu Garcia too has recently signed a two-year contract extension for ATK Mohun Bagan after an eventful ISL last season, scoring 6 goals and assisting further 3. Edu is likely to be a vital cog in the Mariners midfield as he will likely carry most of the creative responsibilities. Prabir Das and Michael Soosairaj will have the duty of spreading the game and whipping those immaculate crosses in from the wings. Prabir had a particularly good ISL season in 2019/20 as he contributed with 5 assists, 2 of them coming during the playoffs. He will be looking to add to his goal tally along with the assists this season. Soosairaj, on the other hand, found the net on 3 occasions last season but couldn’t register an assist. The dynamic combination of Prabir and Soosairaj on the wings with McHugh playing as a pivot who will distribute the ball along with breaking up the opposition’s offensive play and with Edu Garcia, carving open the rival’s with his defence-splitting passes, ATKMB has a very potent midfield line up. A midfield which will not only create chances but are good enough to convert them into goals, if the opportunity befalls them.
Roy Krishna (ST – Fiji), David Williams (ST – Australia)
When you have David Williams and Roy Krishna in your side, well you don’t have to look any further for a striking pair. Roy Krishna, who has roots in the City of Joy, narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot last season. He did score 15 goals and managed 6 assists last season, but 14 of those came in the league stage, 1 less than Valskis of Chennaiyin who bagged 15 goals in the league stage. Winning the ISL might have helped him to get over the fact that he conceded the Golden Boot to Valskis, but he will be looking to make amends this season and win both the title and the golden boot. David Williams complimented Krishna brilliantly last season, with him bagging 7 goals and 5 assists. They both formed a deadly partnership last season and the ATKMB faithfuls will be expecting the same fireworks from them. Other than Krishna and Williams, they also have some bright young Indian talents in the form of Subho Ghosh, Joby Justin and Manvir Singh, who signed over from FC Goa to help with the goal-scoring. But if Williams and Krishna emulate the form of last season, it will be very hard to replace them in the starting 11.
ATKMB Probable Matchday Lineup
Substitutes: Dheeraj Singh (GK), Sumit Rathi, Salam Ranjan Singh, Sk. Sahil, Jayesh Rane, Brad Inman, Javi Hernandez, Joby Justin, Manvir Singh.
The key to success for any sporting side has to be the options they have on the bench. And it seems like the Mariners have plenty to choose from. They have a strong squad filled with youthful exuberance and abundant experience. Brad Inman, who has been one of the high profile transfers this summer is likely to start the campaign on the bench, but he and Javi Hernandez would be itching for a starting place and some healthy competition in the side for starting places could be a headache to Habas, but a headache he won’t mind having. The ISL could implement a 5 man substitution rule this season thus allowing 9 players on the bench, and the likes of Subho Ghosh, Boris Singh, Komal Thatal and Kiyan Nassiri would be pushing the top 20 for a place in the matchday squad.