On 12th October 2014, Indian football will witness a new dawn. The Hero Indian Soccer League will kick off on that day at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata with an encounter between the home team, Atletico De Kolkata and the visitors, Mumbai City FC. In terms of popularity of the game, Kolkata is often referred to as the “Mecca of Indian Football”, but Kolkata’s football fanatics are usually either Mohun Bagan or East Bengal fans by birth and the big question whether Atletico De Kolkata can charm them to the Salt Lake Stadium to support them will be answered that day.
Atletico De Kolkata is administered by a consortium, “Kolkata Games and Sports Private Limited”. The star studded consortium has been formed by Kolkata’s three top industrialists, Harsh Neotia, Sanjiv Goenka and Utsav Parekh; the owner and CEO of Atletico Madrid, Miguel Angel Gil Marin; and most importantly, the Prince of Kolkata, the former captain of the Indian cricket team, Sourav Ganguly. The iconic presence of the “Dada” of Indian cricket will be absolutely critical for ADK in their quest to attract the local supporters, who are mostly either Mohun Bagan or East Bengal fans by birth.
Atletico De Kolkata will play their home matches at the Salt Lake Stadium, also known as the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan. The Salt Lake Stadium is the second largest stadium in the World with capacity of over a hundred and thirty thousand. The Salt Lake Stadium has an artificial playing turf, which has been blamed for a number of injuries to players in the past and ADK’s players need to adjust themselves to this turf quickly.
Former Spanish defender, Antonio Lopez Habas has been assigned the managerial duties of the Atletico De Kolkata team. The 57 year old Spaniard is a veteran and has a coaching career, which is longer than 24 years and has worked in a number of countries. Habas will be assisted by the Brazilian, Jose Ramires Barreto, who has played in India for nearly 15 years. His knowledge of Indian football will also be an asset for ADK.
Goalkeepers: Apoula Edel, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury and Basilio Agudo
The Goal-keeping unit of Atletico De Kolkata comprises of 2 foreign goalkeepers and just one Indian goalkeeper. The Armenian Goalie, Apoula Edel is certainly the most ADK’s most high profile keeper. Apoula has played a lot of matches for internationally reputed clubs like PSG (France) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (Israel). The concern with him is his match fitness. After his contract with the Israeli side, Hapoel Tel Aviv, expired in July 2013, he spent the entire season in the wilderness.
Spanish custodian, Basilio Agudo is another option for ADK as a keeper. Basilio has represented Atletico Madrid’s B team and has a lot of experience of playing in Spain’s Segunda Division B league. He started in 36 matches last season for Fuenlabrada.
Last, but not the least India’s Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. According to the rules of the ISL, every team can field only 6 foreign players in a game. Thus, every team would like to start with an Indian goal-keeper, so that they can play with 6 foreign on-field players. Subhasish Roy Chowdhury is usually a safe custodian and is thus the most likely candidate to start with a pair of gloves for Atletico.
Defenders: Josemi, Sylvain Monsoreau, Arnab Mondal, Kingshuk Debnath, Biswajit Saha, Denzil Franco and Nallappan Mohanraj
Atletico De Kolkata is likely to start with Josemi as their right back. The 34 year old Spaniard may not be in the absolute peak of his career, he still undoubtedly the best right back in the ADK squad. He appeared in 16 League games and 1 knockout game for Skoda Xanthi FC in the highest level of Greek football in the 2013-14 season. His recent form is thus quite decent too.
Arnab Mondal and Sylvain Monsoreau are likely to start in the central defense for Atletico. Arnab is certainly one of the best Indian central defenders at the moment and is thus an automatic choice to start. The 33 year old Sylvain Monsoreau brings a wealth of experience with him. The former Lyon center back has played in the Uefa Europa League as well as the Uefa Champions League. Though he is at the dusk of his career, he still is a very tough defender and if fit, Sylvain will start. Atletico also has Mohun Bagan’s Kingshuk Debnath in their ranks, who is also a very good central defender.
The left back position is a major cause of concern for the Kolkatans. Their two genuine left-backs, Nallapan Mohunraj and Biswajit Saha are not technically very sound. They also lag behind in terms of their physiques. So the best option for Antonio Habas as a left back would be Denzil Franco. Though Denzil has played mostly as a right back throughout his career, he also has some experience as a left back and can adapt to that position.
Midfielders:Luis García , Mamunul Islam, Ofentse Nato, Jakub Podaný, Cavin Lobo, Climax Lawrence, Borja Fernández, Lester Fernandez, Rakesh Masih, Sanju Pradhan and Jofre Mateu
Atletico De Kolkata has a star studded midfield. Starting with defensive midfield, ADK has 3 high quality foreigners in that position. Botswana’s Ofentse Nato, Borja Fernandez of Spain and the Bangladesh skipper, Mamunul Islam. They also have Indian defensive medios Climax Lawrence and Rakesh Masih in their ranks. If ADK boss Habas decides to go with only one CDM, he would probably have to go for Ofentse Nato. The 25 year old is a current international for Botswana and his recent form is also very good. In the 2013-14 season, he started in 24 matches for MPUMALANGA BLACK ACES FC in the South African Premiere League. 33 year old Spaniard, Borja Fernandez is also another very good option in defensive midfield. Borja, who is a graduate from Real Madrid’s youth academy, has also been in good recent form and has even in scored in one of the practice matches for ADK.
On the right wing Habas has two speedy Indian wingers, namely Sanju Pradhan and Cavin Lobo. Sanju will probably get the nod ahead of Cavin because he has more experience of playing in that position. On the left wing Jakub Podany of the Czech Republic is an outright choice. The 27 year old Czech left winger has blistering pace and is also in great form. He started in 34 matches in the Greek Superliga in the 2013-14 season and found the net once. Spanish left winger Jofre Mateu is also another option on the left wing.
Atletico Madrid’s marquee player, Luis Garcia will be starting as a CAM, behind the two strikers. In that position the former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid star can play freely and provide the final ball to the strikers. He can also move up and score if required. Cavin Lobo who is mainly a right winger can also play in that position. Kolkata’s very own, Mohammad Rafique is also a good option in that position.
Forwards: Fikru Teferra, Baljit Sahni, Mohammed Rafi, Mohammed Rafique and Arnal Llibert
The greatest weapon in ADK’s Arsenal in Ethiopian international, Fiku Teferra. Though the 28 year old Ethiopian spent a barren 2013-14 season in club level, he still has plenty of quality to perform well in the ISL. Fiku also scored in ADK’s last practise match, which they unfortunately lost 1-3. India’s Baljit Sahni could be Fiku’s partner up front. Baljit is a strong lad from Punjab and posseses a good scoring ability. ADK also has Mohammad Rafi, who is also a good striker.
PROBABLE STARTING XI: Subhasish Roy Chowdhury,Josemi,Sylvain,Arnab Mondal,Denzil Franco,Ofentse Nato,Sanju Pradhan,Jakub Podany,Luis Garcia,Fiku,Baljit Sahni
Formation : 4-1-2-1-2
PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR– Jakub Podany
The Czech left winger Jakub Podany has blistering pace and has unique ability to send in perfectly wighted crosses, and thus provide assists to the strikers to score. If Jakub adjusts to the hot weather in Kolkata and the artificial playing surface at the Salt Lake Stadium, Jakub can be a trump card for the Kolkata based ISL side.
Possible Finish- 4th
Atletico De Kolkata has a solid central defense and an excellent midfield. The lack of a quality genuine left back and the absence of a clinical striker, apart from Fiku Teferra, are two major areas of concern. Football is an unpredictable game and it is impossible to predict the results of a football tournament with certainty. Hoewever after weighing the strengths and the weaknesses of the Atletico De Kolkata squad, a 4th place finish looks very probable.