This coming season promises to be exciting for ATK Mohun Bagan fans. By signing Euro 2020 star Joni Kauko and Mumbai City’s Hugo Boumous, the club has already demonstrated its ambition to build a team capable of challenging another ISL trophy. Yet, they have bigger goals, one of which is to win in Asia. Taking part in the opening AFC Cup Group Stage match against Club Eagles or Bengaluru FC on 18th August will be the beginning of their journey to realise these ambitions.
Joni Kauko has arguably been the biggest signing for ATK Mohun Bagan so far. The 6’2″ midfielder was spotted in action at last month’s Euro tournament wearing Finland’s jersey. Kauko played for 57 minutes over three matches before Finland were knocked out from the group stages. Kauko played four consecutive seasons in the Denmark Superliga between 2016 and 2020 before his club Esbjerg fB was relegated to the second division.
Kauko, as he stated in an interview, wanted to leave the club after it was relegated, but contractual requirements prevented him from doing so. ATK Mohun Bagan has, however, stepped in to help him finally move on this year.
In what ways could Kauko make ATK Mohun Bagan better, and what could he specifically offer in the upcoming season? Here IFTWC examines what makes him one of the most compelling foreign players to feature in ISL.
Kauko’s output of goals and assists was low when he played for Randers FC in the Superliga. Nonetheless, in 2018, after he joined Esbjerg fB, his attacking output increased significantly as the midfielder managed to score 22 goals and record six assists in the next three seasons. Kauko was designated as the box-to-box midfielder, constantly seen striding forward to support the strikers.
Coach Troels Bech always used Kauko in the attacking midfield position, most often as the No. 10 in a 4-3-1-2 formation. In some cases, he was also used as a right midfielder with limited attacking duties. Joni averaged 0.9 key passes and accurate long balls per game in 19/20, the third-highest among the Esbjerg squad. His shot-taking ability and accuracy, however, stand out most from all of his statistics. Kauko averaged 1.7 shots per game and 0.6 shots on target per game. He scored a significant portion of his goals with headers, making him a threat from set-pieces.
Kauko’s ability to make perfect runs into the box and his movements in tight spaces have made him an excellent attacker. Kauko, in 20/21, converted 18% of his 42 shots taken on goal, and about 34% of the shots were on target. Kauko’s runs have been his greatest asset. With his towering physicality and speed, the midfielder has been hard to catch up with, as seen below.
Here, French midfielder Paul Pogba fails to keep up with Kauko, who flies ahead of him, beats his press, and delivers a beautifully timed pass to his teammate. The attack eventually resulted in a goal, with Kauko registering a pre-assist.
In this clip, Kauko is pictured making a brilliant diagonal run into the box against Bosnia and Herzegovina in a friendly match. He was present there to collect the ball from the rebound and headed it to Teemu Pukki, who scored.
Kauko makes a run from far off to get into the box in the image above. A lot of space opens up for him to score a goal from his teammate’s through ball as he manages to outpace his marker.
As usual, Kauko can find a lot of space here, thanks to his vision and shielding abilities. The attack ended with Joni Kauko scoring a goal as well.
At the Euro 2020 match between Belgium and Finland, Kauko once again executes a similar move, which allowed him to beat the press of Alex Wietsel and create a goal-scoring opportunity.
In the limited time Kauko played at the Euros, he demonstrated his attacking abilities quite well.
Kauko plays a penetrating long-ball to counter Belgium’s low block. Despite the beautiful chance that Joni created, Pukki failed to capitalise on it. In the second image, Kauko attempts the same, but the Danish defenders clear the ball.
Kauko’s expected assists per 90 minutes in 20/21 was close to 0.05, but his more impressive stats were 0.50 progressive runs per 90 and an average of 1.17 line-breaking passes per 90. Although Kauko had a huge attacking output, he was also extremely solid defensively. As a result of his physicality, close to half of his aerial and defensive duels were won by him. He recorded about 0.9 interceptions per 90 minutes.
Joni Kauko has been operating for both Esbjerg and Finland as a perfect box-to-box midfielder. His volume of creative output has made him a regular member of the international squad for Finland. By far, the 30-year-old is one of the most underrated midfielders in Finland.
Kauko can fit in easily in the ATK Mohun Bagan setup. The counter-attacking style of football favoured by Habas will be helpful to Kauko in showing his true potential. Bagan’s counter-attacking style will be bolstered by the midfielder’s pace and physicality. It won’t be surprising to see Kauko’s assist numbers go higher up with the presence of a finisher like Roy Krishna. The presence of Hugo, however, can limit his chances in playing XI as both like to operate in the same spaces. It remains to be seen who will be ATK Mohun Bagan’s attacking midfielder for the upcoming AFC Cup- record signing Boumous or Joni Kauko.
Statistics from dashboard of The Indian Analyst and Sofascore.
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