On Saturday night, ATK coach Antonio Habas became the first manager to win two Indian Super League titles and admitted that the second crown was more special simply because the quality of competition was much higher.
Habas was at the helm when ATK clinched the ISL title in the inaugural season and took the team to the play-offs later before moving to FC Pune City in 2016. He returned to the Kolkata outfit at the start of this season.
“It’s different because in the first season, the ISL wasn’t the same competition. Now it is much more professional. There are better coaches, better players, more teams, more time in the competition. This title is more important than first, but the first was also important because it was the first title,” the Spaniard was quoted as saying by the tournament’s official website.
Habas quickly turned around the fortunes of the team that ended sixth last season, with crucial signings and adopted his tactics through out the season to counter the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and also tackle the injury concerns to key players during the season.
The 62-year-old underlined the importance of teamwork through the season and said both the Indian and foreign players stood up when required.
“I have to congratulate the players for the fantastic work they did all season. They were disciplined. We are a group always, inside and outside of the pitch. This is important.
“We had to move in the market with the injury to Carl McHugh. He could play in centre-midfield or centre-back and his injury was a big miss. After that, with the problem with Agus, the team was in a problem for two, three matches.
“But I think, the strength of the group salvaged the situation. When you have individual problems, the only solution is the team, the collective. This is the idea. I think that the mix between Indian players and foreign players was fantastic this season,” he said.
ATK’s record ISL triumph was fuelled by ability to win in more ways than one
That collective strength of the squad was visible in the final against Chennaiyin FC when ATK’s most prolific scorer Roy Krishna had to be substituted due to an injury and the team had to alter plans to counter the pressure being built by the opposition.
“I think that the match had two different parts. In the first half after the initial few minutes, we were better than Chennaiyin. And after that in the second half, with the injury to Roy (Krishna), the team was nervous.
“We couldn’t find the necessary personnel to keep scoring and kill the match off. In the second half, the team didn’t play well. But even though we didn’t play well, we had fantastic character. In some matches, you can win with the heart and today, ATK won 3-1,” he added.
Speaking about his future with the club, Habas said he would love to stay with the club longer but a lot would depend on the direction the new entity ATK-Mohun Bagan takes. The ISL and I-League champions had announced a merger from the next season in January this year.
“I didn’t have a team in June and when ATK contacted me, I immediately agreed to join them because I had a special feeling with ATK from the first season and now I feel like continuing. I am waiting for a contract,” he was quoted as saying by Goal.com.