Finally, the squads of the eight franchises, which will be competing in the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL), are taking shape after the drafting of the domestic Indian players earlier in the week. Following many discussions and brainstorming sessions, each of the teams picked up their 14 footballers from the pool of Indian players in the 14-round mega event spread over two days in Mumbai. And while Atletico de Kolkata missed out on Bengal stars like Mehtab Hossain, Rahim Nabi, Subrata Paul, Sandip Nandy, and Debabrata Das amongst others, Antonio Habas’ side did manage to keep the city-connection intact by roping in some local players.
But before going into the details of how Atletico de Kolkata’s team have panned out thus far, one should be aware of the squad constitution rule of the franchises. Each of the eight teams will have a squad of 22 players, each consisting of eight foreigners, including one marquee player and 14 domestic Indian players. Atletico de Kolkata have till now roped in 16 players in total, out of which two are foreigners, including their marquee signing Luis Garcia, the former Liverpool star. With the draft for the foreign players to be held next month, none of the teams are yet to attain full strength, and the Kolkata outfit are no exception. But going by the saying “morning shows the day”, one could at least try to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of Atletico de Kolkata.
Goalkeeper – Subhasish Roy Chowdhury
Atletico de Kolkata have got a solid goalkeeper in Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. The 28-year-old, who was born and brought up in Kolkata, has the experience of winning domestic league titles with Mahindra United (now disbanded) and Dempo. The Tata Football Academy (TFA) product began his senior career with East Bengal in 2004 before joining Mahindra United the next year. Following the disbandment of the Mumbai club, Roy Chowdhury signed for Dempo in 2010. The custodian, who also represented India four times, put in numerous match-winning performances for the Goan side and will be looking forward to making his “home-coming” a special affair.
Defenders – Arnab Mondal, Denzil Franco, Kingshuk Debnath, Biswajit Saha and Nallappan Mohanraj
The local connection is surely there in Atletico de Kolkata’s defence. Apart from Mondal, Debnath and Saha being from the state of West Bengal, the trio are excellent defenders as well. And if Franco and Mohanraj are thrown into the mix, it increases the solidity of the defence. Mondal and Debnath will be marshalling the heart of the defence, while the rest are full-backs. Both the centre-backs had decent 2013/14 campaigns for East Bengal and Mohun Bagan respectively, and same can be said about Franco, who was a star in Churchill Brothers’ otherwise flailing I-League campaign last term. Franco, who is an India international, is well known for his darting runs down the flank, and the 28-year-old is also equally good in intercepting passes and thwarting the attacks of rival teams. On the other hand, Saha and Mohanraj have not played in the I-League last season. The duo signed their contracts with IMG-Reliance, the sponsors of ISL, in 2013, but failed to find any I-League club after the tournament was cancelled. Mohanraj, who once played at Mohun Bagan, is a fast runner and good in overlapping, but is prone to committing mistakes. Saha is better of the two and also has the experience of lifting the I-League with Salgaocar in the 2011/12 season. The 26-year-old is a former Mohun Bagan player as well and will be eager to break into Atletico de Kolkata’s starting line-up.
Midfielders – Cavin Lobo, Sanju Pradhan, Lester Fernandes, Rakesh Masih, Climax Lawrence and Borja Fernandez
Apart from Borja Fernandez, the above mentioned players have or had the experience of playing in a club from the city. Lobo has been a sensation for East Bengal since joining the Red and Gold from Mumbai FC in 2012. The 26-year-old is a good dribbler and has a knack of hitting the target from long rangers. Similarly, Pradhan was a revelation for the Kolkata giants after his move to East Bengal from Air India in 2008. The Sikkimese, who was once touted the next Bhaichung Bhutia, was a crowd favourite during his five-year stay at the club. The 24-year-old is a livewire down the flanks and also has a talent of scoring vital goals for his side. Pradhan found himself in a similar situation to Saha and Mohonraj when ISL was called off last year, but unlike the defensive duo, Dempo came at the winger’s rescue; although Pradhan played just a handful of matches for the Goan club.
Masih, on the other hand, is a defensive midfielder. Some eyebrows were raised when Atletico de Kolkata went for the former Mohun Bagan player in the first day of the drafts. The 27-year-old is quite slow both on and off the ball and sometimes becomes “invisible” during the course of a game. However, Masih is good at set-pieces and at times pops up from nowhere to score goals at crucial junctures of a match. Moving on to Lester Fernandes, who counts Dempo, United Sports and Salgaocar amongst his former employers, is a good squad player. The TFA graduate boasts of a single senior cap for India and is expected to make sporadic appearances in the ISL. Another interesting pick of Atletico de Kolkata was that of Climax Lawrence. The 35-year-old, who has four I-League winners’ title with Dempo, possesses huge wealth of experience. The veteran is used to playing day-in and day-out at the top level and could prove to be the steel in the Kolkata outfit’s midfield. Lawrence is sure to provide ample goalscoring opportunities for the strikers and also has the ability to find the back of the net himself.
But the stand-out midfielder for Atletico de Kolkata has to be Borja Fernandez. The former Real Madrid man played nine seasons in La Liga. Fernandez amassed more than 180 appearances in Spain’s top-flight football with Real Madrid, Real Valladolid, Real Mallorca and Getafe combined. The defensive-minded midfielder scored two La Liga goals during that time, but to be honest, the 33-year-old is more known for his crunching tackles than his goalscoring prowess. He never earned a senior cap for Spain, but has represented the nation at various youth levels. However, Fernandez’s experience of featuring in La Liga will surely come in handy for Atletico de Kolkata in the ISL.
Forwards – Mohammed Rafi, Mohammed Rafique, Baljit Sahni and Luis Garcia
Atletico de Kolkata’s forward department looks a bit thin on paper and lacks a proven goalscorer. Rafi, Rafique and Sahni are talented no doubt, but Habas’ team will struggle if they pin too much expectation on the trio. Rafi burst into the scene with Mahindra United in 2006, but slowly faded away. The 32-year-old, who was once quite a goal-poacher, even earned seven caps for India. However, Rafi fell off the radar since joining Churchill in 2010, and his subsequent moves to Mumbai Tigers and Mumbai FC failed to earn him plaudits.
Similarly, Sahni, who rose to fame due to his records in front of goal for JCT (now disbanded), has failed to live up to the expectations since his move to East Bengal in 2010. The Punjab-born striker has scored some crucial goals for the Kolkata giants, but his consistency has never been the same. In contrast, Rafique was never really known for his goals as the 21-year-old normally plays as a withdrawal forward or a midfielder. The youngster, who joined East Bengal from United Sports this summer, is a tireless worker, but will find it difficult to feature for Atltico de Kolkata as a striker.
However, Luis Garcia, the franchise’s marquee signing is sure to get ample game time in the tournament. The 36-year-old, who is a product of Barcelona’s youth system, is most famous for his spell at Liverpool; the Spaniard helped the Reds to win the Champions League in his debut season at Merseyside. Garcia, known for his “ghost goal” against Chelsea in the semi-final of the Champions League in the same campaign, also has the experience of playing at a World Cup. The forward, who basically operates as a winger, represented Spain at the 2006 showpiece event in Germany. Apart from being a nippy player, Garcia possesses the ability to bond well with the supporters, something which the Atletico de Kolkata fans would surely love.
However, having assessed Atletico de Kolkata’s squad till now, it is safe to say that the franchise is sure to strengthen every department with the six remaining slots for the foreigners.