In the short yet thrilling history of the Indian Super League, Antonio Habas has lifted the trophy twice. He made ATK the maiden ISL champions in 2014 and gave them their third silverware in 2019-20, just before they became ATK Mohun Bagan. The previous season was a new chapter of 'Habas Ball' which saw them concede the lowest number of goals across the season at just 13! While also keeping 10 clean sheets. However, to say Mohun Bagan struggled at the other end of the pitch would be an insult. But to compare with their defence, it was disappointing.
What could they do more to improve?
They already had a top centre forward in Roy Krishna, a secondary striker in David Williams and an array of attacking midfielders by the end of the last season.
The Spanish tactician heavily relies on a system that involves fast breaks and potent counter-attacking to win them the games. The lack of creativity down from the middle has been visible for the last couple of seasons despite them lifting the title in 2020. Marcelinho's arrival in January 2021 did help them but it mostly highlighted what they lacked.
One thing which Habas might have recognised is this scarcity could backfire on the continental front and the need for a proven attack-minded player must have escalated after they were bettered by Mumbai City FC for both the ISL title and the league's shield.
To solve it, Mohun Bagan could either go out and about in search of a suited player or they could just sign their opponent's prized asset, Hugo Boumous. The latter signed on a bumper multi-year deal, something which was unheard of in Indian Football for foreign players. This is a very ambitious move as a club and is a testament to Mohun Bagan's intent for Asian games.
What does it offer Habas and his system?
Boumous is on another level! In the 58 ISL games, he scored 19 goals and assisted another 24. He has the most number of assists in the league's history, six more than the second one. He has created 81 chances in 58 games and averaged 1.3 chances per match, which is expected to increase with the Mariners.
Building a team around Boumous starts from the back and could be a huge challenge since ATK MB failed to successfully replace Sandesh Jhingan. It can be presumed that Habas might go forward to change his formation to a traditional four-man defence, which has been the set-up that helped Boumous. Or they could also start with a five of Soosairaj, Subashish Bose, Tiri, Pritam Kotal and Prabir Das and transition to four defenders, pushing either Soosairaj or Prabir/Ashutosh Mehta to a wide midfield role.
Up ahead should be Lenny Rodrigues partnered with versatile Joni Kauko. The presence of Kauko might give the team another dimension as he is a box-to-box midfielder who also has a knack for scoring goals but Carl McHugh's defensive solidarity would make this decision a bit difficult for Habas. With Boumous at the centre and Roy Krishna confirmed up top, the wide positions could accommodate Michael Soosairaj on the left and Liston Colaco on the right.
The Engine's Role
On the field, Hugo Boumous could be allowed to roam freely and make the most of the second chances off the long ball passes. His vision and off the ball movement was at its peak in Mumbai City FC's game against East Bengal and Kerala Blasters. Talking about his time with the Gaurs, Boumous enjoyed a majority of his goals and assists there and the fashion he achieved there was also impressive. His one-two passes with Ferran Corominas were a delight at FC Goa along with his off the ball movement to make way for wingers to tug in also came in handy for the team.
One aspect which can unlock numerous goal-scoring opportunities for Roy Krishna is Boumous' movement around the defence line, especially when they are defending. Time and again we have seen Hugo get past the line and beat the off-side trap around the halfway line to either score or set up someone. And Roy Krishna is fast, his pace will only help Bournous' killer instincts.
All in all, the main man to run any attack for Mohun Bagan would be the "engine" Hugo Boumous. Considering his performances improved with the presence of equally capable players, stopping ATK Mohun Bagan from scoring would be a challenge for the other ten teams this season.