Most teams who reach a final have a variety of motivations for doing so. Yet, when it comes to ATK Mohun Bagan (ATKMB) and the 2022-23 Indian Super League final, there are several reasons why they should not have been there.
Here’s how ATKMB overcame football logic to shock the odds despite several setbacks:
They had a disastrous start to the season.
There are excellent pre-seasons, horrible pre-seasons, and whatever ATK Mohun Bagan had before the start of the 2022-23 ISL season. First, they arrived at the Durand Cup with an attitude of ‘we’ve got larger things to focus on,’ only to be eliminated in the group stagestage
They were then knocked out of the AFC Cup by unfancied Kuala Lampur City FC after surrendering two goals after the 90th minute.
That poor start resulted in a playing style that contradicted their coach’s ideology
Ferrando’s expansive, CatalanTM football was abandoned as a direct result of KL City’s defeat. All of the excitement, goals, and inverted wingers allowed unlimited freedom were gone. Instead, the slogan was solidity, discipline, and even more solidity. Sit in a low block and move forward when necessary. If the opponent can’t be bothered, switch to a mid-block.
It was almost as though Antonio Habas had never left. Ferrando had been brought in to overhaul the pragmatic, ultra-defensive practises of the company.
Ferrando was recruited in to modify Habas’ pragmatic, ultra-defensive tactics, and there were indications of that occurring last season. This time, though, the team retreated to the mean.
They barely scored or generated opportunities
ATK Mohun Bagan scored 26 goals in 23 games this season (21 in 22 when taking away the five against Kerala Blasters). Only the league’s lowest three clubs scored less. They relied nearly completely on two players for those goals: Dimitri Petratos (10 G, 7 A) and Hugo Boumous (5 G, 4 A), who combined for 26 goals. There will be no Dimi, Hugo, or party.
Nevertheless, Ferrando’s club only produced 23 major opportunities all season (again, only three teams created fewer).
Their finest player from the previous season declined dramatically
Liston Colaco has dropped from a goal per 117 minutes to one every 267 minutes this season, and he is now almost a shell of his former self. This was due in part to Liston playing alongside Boumous and Petratos, both of whom tend to drift towards the inside left channel and occupy the types of areas Liston prefers to operate in.
This meant that anytime he got into the type of shooting position he like, it was crowded, with both his own players and opponents attempting to close down all of them. That resulted in a lack of confidence that a player like him requires in order to take on opponents one-on-one, shoot from absurd situations, and just be who he actually is.
They suffered long-term injuries to four important players
Florentin Pogba had been signed to much fanfare and was immediately appointed captain. He had also been hurt practically quickly. This ruled out a centre-back on whom the coach would have relied week in and week out. Tiri, an important member of the ATKMB defence for the past two seasons, has also been declared out for the season. And, around halfway through, Deepak Tangri, a tenacious centre midfielder vital to Ferrando’s Plan A, enters the fray (of aggression off the ball).
The worst setback, though, was the early termination of Joni Kauko’s season (six games in). ATKMB appeared to be a Ferrando-in-theory squad with Kauko, all fun and jazz and excitement and goal-filled. Without him, they seem as they do today. As simple as that.
They even managed to lose to NorthEast, a team that no one ever loses to. United has only one win all season. They only defeated one team in twenty games. We’ll take a wild guess at whose team it was.
Despite everything, it is unavoidable. The Indian Super League final for the 2022-23 season. They shouldn’t be here, according to logic. What logic doesn’t realise is that they are who they are.
Call them ATK or Mohun Bagan or ATK Mohun Bagan: they are nearly always present in the biggest matches in Indian football.
Football legacy, both ancient and modern.
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