After 17 games last season, ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) has scored 32 goals. That’s 12 more than the Indian Super League (ISL) this season. Only two lower group clubs, NorthEast United and Jamshedpur FC, have scored less. Most striking of all is the fact that East Bengal, in ninth place, has scored 21 goals. Only three games in the 2022-23 ISL, the 20th game week, ended 0-0. ATKMB played in all of them: against Odisha FC, Chennaiyin FC and, on Thursday, Jamshedpur FC.
If one team has three or four shots on goal, they have one goal. In our situation, we have eight or nine shots on goal per match, (but) we have zero goals. We’re not happy, but we have to keep supporting the players, ATKMB coach Juan Ferrando said.
Against Jamshedpur away, ATKMB had seven shots on goal and 15 attempts. But they were lucky to get a point, considering Jamshedpur’s Ritvik Das missed a penalty kick, and Boris Singh and Daniel Chukwu had their best chances of the night.
ATKMB is fourth in the standings with 28 points, but Bengaluru FC, Goa FC and Odisha FC could push them out of the top six as the league enters a crucial stage. Teams ranked third through sixth will advance to the playoffs for the semifinals, and the top two teams in the league will earn automatic spots. A home loss to Bengaluru FC and the subsequent tie put pressure on Ferrando. An ATKMB official said the club is in talks with Sergio Lobera, the former coach of FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, who is now in China. The official did not want to give his name, given the sensitive nature of the matter.
I am all for corporate culture, but I think we have failed to match it with Mohun Bagan’s heritage and passion, said Debasish Dutta, an ATKMB board member. Having held many positions, including building teams that won the I-League and its predecessor, the National Football League, Dutta is the general secretary of the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, which is a separate organization.
ATKMB’s performance this season is not what one would expect from a club that, according to the official, has spent nearly ₹156 crore since merging with Mohun Bagan in January 2020. Because he wanted to defend his position, the official did not want to give his name.
That ATKMB was not stingy with funds was evident when the team was formed. In 2021, Liston Colaco transferred from Hyderabad FC for the recordThe transfer amount is almost ₹1 crore. According to FC Goa and ATKMB officials, the buyout clause in Ferrando’s contract was almost ₹1.2 crore. Hugo Bumus and 2018 World Cup player Dimitri Petratos will be among the top five most expensive players this season.
Colaco would become one among Indians with an annual salary of ₹3 crores, according to ISL club officials. Ashiq Kuruniyan is worth about ₹2.25 crore, he’s not too far behind. Manveer Singh will cost about ₹1.5 crore. All of the current international players — ATKMB has six of them from the squad that played in the 2022 Asian Cup qualifiers — the trio are on long-term contracts. As Bumus said before Thursday’s game, ATKMB doesn’t have many young or inexperienced players.
Still, ATKMB has as many ISL titles as the last three teams in the standings — zero. After finishing second in the 2020-21 season, they lost to reigning champions FC Hyderabad last season. This time they are eight points behind Hyderabad FC and 15 points behind leaders Mumbai City FC. That’s largely because the goals have dried up. The fruitless draws have been with teams below ATKMB in the standings, as have four of their five losses.
Perhaps it is a psychological factor
Speaking of the lack of goals, Ferrando said: Maybe the reason is psychological or emotional. Maybe it’s the confidence.
Given that Ferrando prefers the false nine, he’s from Barcelona and wants the goal scoring duties to be shared, it’s appropriate that he rejected the idea that the nine would solve the problem. What if he is injured? With the exception of Mumbai, most second line players scored, not the No. 9. Soccer is about timing and use of space. What is the best timing to use space is what we need to know.
Injuries to key players didn’t help. Yoni Kauko, who joined the team after participating in Euro 2021, was sidelined due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury after six games, Singh missed six games due to injury. But they, too, have seen a decline in form. Colaco, 24, was in the starting lineup Thursday and has one goal and four assists in 17 games. Last season he had eight goals and five assists in 22 games. Of course, Colaco’s slump is affecting the team, Ferrando said.
Usually local (Indian) players, when they don’t get one dribble, one cross or one vs. lose confidence. If the last match was unsuccessful, it affects their play in the next match. And as a result, eight players are often left on the field. Supporting them on and off the field is the challenge of helping them overcome that, he said.
In 2021-22, Singh and Colaco each made 20 goal assists, leading to salary increases and new contracts. This season, their number is nine. Together, Kolako, Singh and Kuruniyan have 10 goal assists. Mahesh Singh and V. P. Suhair, who would have cost East Bengal a penny each, have 11.
Two seasons behind closed doors have also played a role, and some Indian players are struggling to handle the pressure of playing in front of an audience, the coach said. Given that Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have more fans than most teams in Asia, it will affect their players more. If you can’t handle the pressure, play in an amateur or local league, Bumus said.
It’s great that the team trains at Mohun Bagan, but most classes are closed. Even Sylen Manna (former Indian captain and Asian Games gold medalist) had to face the wrath of the fans as an official and needed police protection to leave the club, Dutta said. I’m not sure we were able to convey to the players and staff the responsibility that comes with playing for this jersey.