Panaji: ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Antonio Lopez Habas is not satisfied with his team’s preparation as they gear up to play Indian Super League (ISL) opener against Kerala Blasters followed by much-anticipated ‘Kolkata Derby’ against arch-rivals SC East Bengal.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, the footballers had to spend 14 days in quarantine before going on to the pitch which meant their preparation was short.
“Honestly, I didn’t get the kind of preparation I needed for the several rules in the COVID-19 situation,” Habas said.
“The footballers did not get on-field training for the (number of) days they needed. There was no opportunity to play practice matches,” he rued.
With less training time, Habas is wary of his players picking injuries. At the moment, the two-time title-winning coach has named a 27-member squad with five rotational captains.
“After such a short period of practice, there is a possibility that the footballers will get injured. I’m afraid of injuries.”
The Spaniard with his foreign recruits had joined the squad only in mid-October but only to serve a quarantine before going on to the pitch.
Incidentally, the Robbie Fowler-coached SC East Bengal were the last to start their preparation following their dramatic entry into the top-tier league.
SC East Bengal’s first match is the ISL derby against arch-rivals ATK Mohun Bagan.
“But this is not an excuse. The situation is almost the same for all the teams,” Habas made it clear.
The Spanish coach further said playing close-door will affect the players enthusiasm.
“There will be no spectators in the stadium during this ‘new normal’. Playing on a field without spectators affects the footballers’ enthusiasm. But there is nothing to do.”
ATK could not win the two matches against Kerala Blasters last season but went on to lift the title for a record third time.
Four days before the match, however, the champion coach does not want to give importance to the last edition’s results.
“We lost but we also became champions. And in football, the result of the previous match remains only as statistics.
“I don’t think the impact of last year’s Kerala match will be felt on Friday. I said earlier and I will say again that the first match against Kerala last year, we could not win due to some wrong decisions of the referee.”
He reminded how refereeing wasn’t up to the mark.
“And it would have been justified if the match of Yuba Bharati was a draw. But there too the refereeing was not good,” he rued.
This time the Green and Maroon brigade is bolstered by the inclusion of Sandesh Jhingan, Brad Inman, and Shubhashis Bose.
But Habas does not want to put his team ahead before playing against Kerala.
“Kerala has a new good coach. He has also signed several good footballers. Kerala is a strong team.”
Kibu Vicuna, under whose coaching Mohun Bagan won the I-League last season, is now the head coach of Kerala as it will be a contest between the past and the present.
But Habas played down the pre-match hype.
“Last time, he (Vicuna) had a good season. He won the I-League and I became the ISL champions. The match is important for both the teams. But our goal will be for getting those three points,” he signed off.