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How Antonio Lopez Habas is forging an absolute ISL team

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While Spain’s Sergio Lobera is widely considered to be the ideal coach in the Indian Super League with his tiki-taka style and easy on the eye offensive football, Antonio Habas Lopez’s moniker of being the “most successful ISL coach” remains indubitable.

The Pozoblanco-born hardly embodies the philosophy that Spanish football is famous for. Whether it be the seamless transition from defence to attack or the quick passing football that mesmerized the world through Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Spain’s World Cup-winning campaign in 2010, Habas’ men don’t indulge in any such tactics.

Instead, the hard taskmaster believes in a physical football that comprises an impenetrable backline while a flock of well-built forwards drill at opponents’ defence relentlessly.

Quite interestingly, Habas had spent his days as an assistant manager to former Barcelona legend and Ballon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov, who was a part of Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team of the early 1990s. Hence, it is strange how Habas developed his conservative style of play in the first place.

However, ATK Mohun Bagan wouldn’t mind his playing style as long it fetches results – something Habas specializes in. Prior to his stint in ISL, Habas had plied his trade in South Africa, where football is played very differently than Asia, but the gaffer managed to mix in things in the right proportions clinching the first-ever ISL title during his very first season with ATK.

Building a robust spine

A closer look at the ATK Mohun Bagan team and it can be easily figured out that Habas is going to war to win every aerial battle thrown at his side.

 

In Tiri and Sandesh Jhingan, Habas has two towering centre-halves who aren’t afraid to put their body in the line. Identical physical traits could be found in central midfielder Carl McHugh and centre-forward Roy Krishna. Hence, the spine of Habas’ team is unshakeable and has players who are ready to put their head in tackles which others would be afraid to do.

The winning formula is no secret as managers like John Gregory and Jorge Costa have resorted to it on previous occasions with the former even winning the title once. However, none has been able to execute it as effectively as the current ATK Mohun Bagan coach.

Injecting quick feet

A perfect team that can win the league or challenge for the title time and again requires the right blend of strength and skill to endure the rigours of the league as well as get the favourable outcome regularly.

Despite the controversial refereeing in the ISL,  Habas’ men have been able to win matches regularly. Refereeing has been below par since the inception of the league and while some teams complain about it after finishing on the wrong end of results, there are some who overcome these hurdles without much fuss.

Human errors cannot be hundred percent corrected and Habas knows that very well. Hence, his selection of players with exceptional close control of the ball has done the job very often. The likes of Michael Soosairaj, Edu Garcia, Javier Hernandez, and David Williams perfectly complement the rough tackling spine of Habas, giving his team an edge that is difficult to counter by their opponents.

No other team in ISL has so finely balanced these two elements together.

Fine-tuning a well-oiled machine

Habas’ vision and steel-mindedness are further aided by the financial resources of the management who aren’t afraid to shell out money on reinforcements.

Losing Soosairaj early in the ongoing edition of the league was a huge blow for Habas after the mercurial Indian forward was instrumental for ATKMB last time around. And Habas was quick enough to replace him with 2016 ISL top goal-scorer Marcelinho in the winter transfer window. The Brazilian loanee not only brings experience but a vibrance in the attacking third.

The manager further balanced the Indian and foreign quota of players by bringing in experienced midfielder Lenny Rodriguez after yet another club star Edu Garcia was sidelined for weeks. And the fact that both the imports had an instant impact on the Mariners season by registering consecutive wins against Kerala Blasters FC and Odisha FC speaks volumes about Habas’ determination to not get bogged down by any limitation whatsoever.

Feature Image Courtesy: Website/ ISL

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