ATK’s Indian Super League-winning coach Antonio Habas has insisted that the number of foreigners playing in an ISL side must remain the same at least for the next few years amid calls for it to be reduced.

The Spaniard believe the ISL needs foreigners to be able to maintain its level and thus improve the Indian players playing in the teams and also at the junior level.

“I believe that the number of foreign players must be maintained, at least 3-4 more seasons... keeping the current format,” Habas told IANS.

“This will increase the level of the players and Indian football. We have to work this time at clubs’ academies so there’s more Indian players with high performance,” he added.

Indian football team coach Igor Stimac had recently called for the application of AFC’s 3+1 rule for foreigners in the ISL, thus limiting the overseas players to four per squad.

However, Habas believes there has been an improvement among Indian players and feels that the influence of foreign players has been key in their development.

“I believe that the arrival of foreign players and coaches in football has had a major impact on the technical, tactical and professional training of the players of India; in today’s and young players at the clubs academies,” he said.

ATK co-owner Sanjiv Goenka confirmed earlier this week that Habas will take charge of the soon-to-be-merged entity ATK-Mohun Bagan next season. The Spaniard pledged his commitment to the new outfit and vowed to “live up to the Mohun Bagan story and its fans.”

“I’ve seen some Mohun Bagan players. I think Kibu [Vicuna, Mohun Bagan head coach] has done a good job,” Habas said, after being quizzed on the Mariners’ I-League triumph.

“We’re seeing the possibility that some player can join the team, but we’ll decide later,” he added.