Kolkata, Oct 17 (IANS) Two-time champions ATK head coach Antonio Lopez Habas on Thursday said the fact that Indian Super League (ISL) table toppers will now get a play-off place in the AFC Champions League is a big motivation for the players as they will rub shoulders with the best in Asia if they manage to bag the slot.
The sixth edition of the ISL, which begins from October 20, replaced I-League as the top-tier competition in the country a few days back after the roadmap of Indian football was presented by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur.
While the ISL table toppers will get to represent India in the Champions League playoffs, the top-tier club competition in Asia, the I-League winner would compete in the second tier AFC Cup in a reversal of the previous arrangement.
“I think it is good for ISL. It is a big recognition. It motivates us more. It is a very good opportunity for players as they would get to play against the best of players of Asia,” Spanish coach Habas told reporters at the ATK Media Day ahead of their opening day clash against Kerala Blasters on October 20 in Kochi.
Under the Spaniard, then Atletico de Kolkata won the inaugural title in 2014 and made the last-four the following year.
Former Spanish international goalkeeper Jose Molina then took over the reins in the third season and the Kolkata franchise put up a dominant display to win their second title — a record they jointly hold with Chennaiyin FC in the five-year-old history of the league.
But since ATK severed ties with Atletico Madrid who looked after the technical affairs, their performances deteriorated sharply as they finished ninth and sixth in the last two editions.
Back again at the helm, Habas said his target is the same, to take the side back to the top.
“I have the same target i.e. to win. We are here to compete every day. I am very happy with the behaviour of my players. They are all charged up,” Habas said.
Asked who he thinks are the strong contenders this time, Habas said: “I don’t know which is the strongest team. It is very difficult to say which is the strongest team. We have to respect everybody.”
ATK’s star player this time is Fijian captain Roy Krishna who was the top scorer in A-League last season.
They have also added some big Indian names like Anas Edathodika Jobby Justin along with young goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh who caught everyone’s attention at the U-17 FIFA World Cup hosted by India in 2017.
“We have to take every match as it comes. We want to be the first club in ISL to win three championships,” Australian striker David Williams said.
“I will give everything I can and share my experience with the local players. Just concentrating on the match on Sunday. Of course we would like the national players to stay and after they joined from the national team I feel more confident,” said the 31-year old Williams who was with Roy Krishna in Wellington Phoenix last season.
India full back Pritam Kotal, who is back with the side after being in India’s squad for their World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh here, urged the supporters to come out in numbers and back ATK like they did during India’s game on Tuesday.
“It was such a great feeling to see a packed stadium against Bangladesh. I hope we would get the same amount of spectators during ATK games.”
ATK will play their first home game of the season on October 25 when they host FC Pune City.