ATK had a forgettable 2017/18 Indian Super League campaign. Managerial changes, demoralising losing streaks and only a narrow win in their final league game prevented a last-place finish in the ISL. From the inexperience of Teddy Sheringham, they have opted for the steady and calm hand of Steve Coppell as their new head coach. The former Manchester United winger brings years of managerial experience and success in the ISL with him. In his two years in India, he took Kerala Blasters to the final and almost qualified for the playoffs with Jamshedpur. ATK are hoping his tactical nous will make them a consistent side in the competition again.
Coppell Has The Experience That Sheringham Didn’t Have
The former winger had two decades of managerial experience in England before he came to India a couple of years back to coach in the ISL. Apart from four spells at Crystal Palace, Coppell also managed Manchester City, Brentford, Brighton, Reading and Bristol City.
He had a couple of director of football gigs at Portsmouth and Crawley Town, before arriving in India to rekindle his coaching career.
The former England international found success in the ISL with Kerala Blasters & Jamshedpur and is now looking to repeat the feat at ATK.
Anyone who watched the team from the south coast of India in 2016 would know how difficult they were to beat. Coppell’s Blasters were not pretty to watch and scored just 13 goals in the competition. However, they were economical at the back as well, conceding just 15.
The winger, who was known for his marauding runs down the flanks, built Kerala from the back and finished second in the table. Coppell made them difficult to play against and instilled defensive discipline in his squad. They were also the only top four side who had a negative goal difference. Narrow wins and hard-fought draws kept the Blasters in the hunt until the end.
Their playoff tie with Delhi Dynamos ended at 2-2 but a 3-0 penalty shootout win took Kerala to the final.
It was a similar story against ATK in final with another 1-1 draw following 120 minutes of football. However, luck ran out for Kerala as the Kolkata side beat them to the title 4-3 on penalties.
Defensive discipline and steady football were the features of Coppell’s Kerala Blasters in 2016. With such a limited but hard-working team, he almost scripted a title-winning season.
Coppell jumped ship after his first year and joined Jamshedpur at the start of last season. His coaching ethos didn’t change and the side from the steel city had a bit of Kerala Blasters in them.
Jamshedpur were not one of the fancied sides of last season’s ISL but Coppell turned them into a real threat. Goals were still hard to come by as they only netted 16 times in 18 games of the ISL. However, what kept them in the playoffs hunt was their defence.
Coppell again had one of the meanest backlines of the tournament, conceding just 18 goals during the season. Jamshedpur looked ripe to finish in the top four but a late-season collapse meant they finished fifth in the league table. Back-to-back defeats to FC Goa and Bengaluru in their last two games cost them a place in the top four.
The former England winger showed his ability to build a side from the back with an unfancied side last season. A strong defence and a hard-working midfield meant Jamshedpur’s lack of goals up front was compensated.
And the formula almost took them to the playoffs despite not being one of the favourites to do so.
What Can We Expect From Coppell At ATK?
Despite his two relatively successful years in the ISL, the former Palace boss has his job cut out at ATK.
The Kolkata side were porous at the back and didn’t score enough up front. A squad overhaul that saw them retain only seven players and bring in 20 new signings means Coppell has to rebuild from the scratch.
He has the attacking players in the squad to play a more expansive brand of football at ATK on paper. Nigerian forward Kalu Uche scored 13 goals for Delhi Dynamos last season and will be ATK’s lynchpin up font. Former FC Goa winger Manuel Lanzarote and ex-Mumbai City schemer Everton Santos should add more creativity to the team.
However, Coppell will focus on improving the defence as soon as possible. ATK conceded too many goals last season and too many heavy defeats drained their confidence.
In Arnab Mondal, John Johnson and Gerson Vieira, he has the defenders to build a backline around at ATK. On paper, the defence looks solid but one of the features of Coppell’s side is also a hard-working midfield.
And in Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Coppell could have his lynchpin in the centre of the park.
Arguably one of the finest central midfielders in India, the 32-year-old missed the ISL last season due to a knee injury. Lyngdoh’s experience in the middle of the park will turn out to be crucial if Coppell is to repeat his success at ATK.
On paper, the 63-year-old has the ingredients to build a successful side for ATK this season. However, the ISL is known for throwing up surprises and many a fancy looking teams have faltered. Coppell’s insistence on building from the back could turn out to be crucial for ATK, who don’t look out of options in attack.
The Englishman’s calm and stoic demeanour will also be key as too many times ATK looked flustered last season when the going got tough. He has the experience to make sure that his side don’t go on a free fall due to a couple of poor results.
The Kolkata side are two-time ISL champions and it is up to Coppell and his staff to make sure that last season was an aberration for them.