Ahead of their opening day clash against Kerala Blasters FC, ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas addressed the media in a virtual pre-match press conference where he spoke about the curtailed pre-season, their expectations from the 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) season and how important it is to start the season on a positive note. Read on for excerpts.
On the team’s decision to not play any pre-season friendlies
We didn’t consider it necessary to play pre-season friendlies this season because of the unique situation in which the league is being organised. We felt that it would be better if the boys played against each other at full tilt in training rather than playing against external opponents on the training pitches and without official referees. I have been very impressed with the attitude of the players in training and now with the matches coming up I feel we need to show that same attitude on the big stage.
On life inside a bio-bubble and attached difficulties
It is very difficult for everyone inside a bio-bubble since there is no physical contact with family and friends. This creates scope for tension and conflict within the group since the daily routine can become quite monotonous. But my players are intelligent enough to be more accommodating in the current scenario which is why the group is getting along perfectly with each other now. I don’t think we will have any major issues in that department.
On his compatriot and Kerala Blasters counterpart Kibu Vicuna
I think he did really well and had a great season with Mohun Bagan last term. I respect his qualities as a coach but it is going to be different in the ISL since it is completely different to the I-League. Our focus is strictly on getting all three points on the day and that is what I will be focused on tomorrow.
On playing without fans and the home support
It is what it is unfortunately and we have to condition our minds to adapt to the new normal. Even last season we played the final behind closed doors and now again we will have to find ways to motivate ourselves without the fans cheering us on inside the stadium. However, it is going to be the same for every team so I am not too worried about it.
On a tough couple of games to start the season with, against Kerala Blasters and the derby against SC East Bengal
I think that the level of competition this season is such that you cannot put more importance on a select few fixtures. Over the next few months we will line up against all our opponents anyway so it really doesn’t matter to me. I take every match as it comes and do not think too much about any particular side. As far as the derby is concerned, I would not like to talk about that right now as it would be disrespectful to our immediate opponents Kerala Blasters.
On the balance and depth of his squad this season
We have a very good squad this season and we will need to rotate a lot because of the fixture congestion. We will need to manage the workload of the players well and try to find solutions whereby we can get a positive result with whatever eleven we field on the day. Beyond that, all the players in my team are equal in my eyes and whoever performs on the pitch and in training will get opportunities to play.
On Sandesh Jhingan and the other newcomers in the side
Sandesh has had the same amount of time as the others to get ready for the season. Of course he was injured for a long time but for the last 6-7 months, every player has had to keep away from the field anyway so that has been kind of an equaliser. He is fully fit now and I am delighted in the way he and all the other new players have integrated into the side. They all have one thing in common and that is the inner fight and hunger and that is something that I like.
On his ambitions for this season
I have the same ambition as I had on my first day in this profession and that is to achieve success. That is true for every competition that we participate in this season, domestic and international. Our aim is to build a competitive team that is capable of achieving success against any opposition and in any tournament. Mohun Bagan and ATK are huge names in Indian football and we will try to make ATK Mohun Bagan the number one side in the country as well as in the continent.
On his coaching idols and his message to the Green and Maroon fans
For me, the two people that I look up to are Arrigo Sacchi in Italy and Luis Aragones in Spain. Their playing styles have influenced me the most. As far as the fans are concerned, my message for them would be that we will try everything and give our hundred per cent every time we take the field. We respect the love and support that they have for the team and it will be very difficult for us to play without them in the stadium this season.