ATK entered last season as the reigning champions of the Indian Super League but it was a turbulent campaign for the Kolkata-side. They are a case study of how things can go quickly wrong for any team. A tactical analysis of their failures would have to start from even before a ball was kicked. Mere statistics of goals scored or conceded are not enough to point out the mistakes they made on and off the pitch
Atletico Madrid’s association with the Kolkata-side ended before the season started as Sanjeev Goenka bought the Spanish giants’ stake. It seemed like a run-of-the-mill development then but would go on to play a key role in a bad season.
Teddy Sheringham struggled to get the team going and was sacked in January as ATK settled at the bottom end of the table, with goals coming at a premium. Ashley Westwood also did worse, earning just a point from seven games and left the club after tendering his resignation. Robbie Keane took charge as player-manager for the final three games of the season.
The Times They Were Changing
The signs of a difficult season were there from the start as ATK decided not to retain most of their title-winning squad following their separation from Atletico Madrid. Under a new manager, the club were looking for a fresh start with a new squad. A lack of experience would go on to cost them dearly during a season when calmer heads were required on and off the pitch.
Just two points from their opening four games suggested the season was going to be a toil for the Kolkata-side. Losing Robbie Keane for the first half of the season was a serious blow and ATK were struggling to score goals.
And with the defence also conceding seven goals in the first four games, Sheringham’s side were toiling at both ends of the pitch.
However, back-to-back 1-0 wins over Mumbai City and Delhi Dynamos restored some hope and confidence. Club captain Keane was also back in the squad after recuperating from an achilles injury. Things seemed to be looking up for the Kolkata, but it was a false dawn for ATK.
They lost more points at home against FC Goa at the start of 2018 in a 1-1 draw and lost narrowly to Bengaluru FC in their next encounter. A win away at NorthEast United, who were also struggling, was a mirage.
Sheringham Sacked but the Worst Was Yet To Come
A 3-0 thrashing at FC Pune on 20th January cost Sheringham his job. The former Manchester United and Tottenham forward struggled to get a consistent run of performances out of his players. With ATK languishing in the bottom half, the management decided to bite the bullet.
ATK were one of the most successful sides of the first three seasons of the ISL and under Sheringham, they never looked like one of the top teams. The ATK hierarchy were used to success and therefore the likelihood of them changing the manager was always high.
In hindsight getting rid of the former striker looks knee-jerk as their season went from bad to worse following his sacking. However, at that stage of the season, it looked like a logical choice. ATK continued to struggle to score goals and their defence looked shaky and bereft of ideas as well. The whole team looked bereft of confidence and Sheringham was not succeeding in stemming the rot.
Ashley Westwood, who was the director of football, was handed reins of the side but ATK’s form went into a tailspin. A 2-2 draw at home against Kerala Blasters was Westwood’s only point in charge of the side as they lost six out of seven games. The former Crewe defender also had to go before the end of the campaign as results never looked like improving.
Keane took charge as player/manager for the last three league games. ATK conceded nine more goals against Delhi Dynamos and FC Goa in two more defeats. The 38-year-old scored the goal against North East United in the final league game to save his side from finishing at the bottom of the table.
What Went Wrong
A lot went wrong for ATK from the start of the 2017/18 ISL campaign. A new manager, a new team and a new set-up meant, they looked short of ideas when the going got tough. They are one of the most successful sides of the nascent ISL but a lot of the experience wasn’t there in the dressing room last season. Sheringham lacked experience and his performance at Stevenage should have been a red herring for ATK.
At the League Two side, the former striker also struggled to turn things around when results went south. He was sacked in February 2016, with the club 19th in the league table having collected only three points from their last eight matches.
Sheringham came to India to revive his coaching career but showed that he learned little from his time at Stevenage.
While results only got worse under Westwood for ATK, there was little to suggest then that Sheringham would have turned things around.
Keane played half of the season but still ended up as their top-scorer with six goals. He finished ninth in the ISL scoring charts for the season but was the only ATK player in the top 20. The former Ireland striker just didn’t receive enough support up top. Their struggle in front of goal mirrored their difficulties at the back.
Having the second worst attack and the second worst defence was never going to be a recipe for success. They scored 16 goals and conceded 30 during the campaign. Delhi Dynamos, 37, were the only team to let in more goals than ATK but they scored eleven more.
ATK had a forgettable season last year and with Steve Coppell, they are trying to start afresh this year. However, they will have to show that they have learned from their mistakes.
Coppell is a steady hand and could have a calming influence on the squad, something Sheringham struggled with last season. The addition of defenders Gerson Vieira and Andre Bikey show that the new manager is trying to rebuild from the back.
Everton Santos, who chipped in with six goals and five assists for Mumbai City last season from midfield, will hope to add creativity to a squad who lacked goals last year.
The Kolkata-side remain one of the most successful teams in the ISL. They are hopeful that last season would prove to be an aberration than a norm for them.