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ISL 2020-21: Dependability, thy name is Carl McHugh

ISL 2020-21: Dependability, thy name is Carl McHugh

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 21 Dec 2020 8:35 AM GMT

When Carl McHugh captained Scotland’s Motherwell FC in the League and Scottish Cup final defeats in 2018, little had he imagined that in 18 months, he’d be plying his trade in the cauldron of an atmosphere that is the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. The defensive midfielder, now 27, has since become one of Antonio Lopez Habas’ main men in a side that takes pride in its defensive rigidity.

Arriving to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2019 for the erstwhile ATK, the Donegal-born, Irish midfielder banged in a superb goal on his debut against Kerala Blasters. He seemed to settle in quickly at his new side and appeared to have a feel for the playing style that Habas wanted to play. However, his season came to an abrupt halt just five matches when he damaged ligaments in both the sides of his ankle. This meant that he had to go back to Ireland and have his ankle operated on as his side went on to lift the ISL trophy in his absence.

Then came the Coronavirus pandemic and a lengthy period of rehab away from the field. McHugh received a shot in the arm when the newly merged ATK Mohun Bagan decided to retain him for the 2020-21 season. It was something that the former Bradford and Plymouth player truly hoped for. In his own words, he had always wanted to play abroad and the manic hustle and bustle in India is something that he and his partner Orla have truly come to enjoy.

This season, he has been absolutely brilliant for the Mariners. The way he breaks opposition play, retains the ball and initiates attacking transitions is second to none in the ISL. The fact that he is second on the list of most tackles (42) and fouls (18) in the league typifies the kind of dirty work that his head coach entrusts him with. Even in the disappointing defeat against Jamshedpur FC, he was the lone warrior in a side that looked a little jaded and slow. Furthermore, in the continued absence of Javi Hernandez, McHugh has also assumed the role of the team’s metronome, always ticking things over in midfield and forming the bridge between attack and defence.

Against Bengaluru FC tonight, it will once again be him that Habas will be depending on to stop the opposition from playing. He will be playing a crucial role in protecting his defenders as well as keeping the likes of Dimas Delgado and Cleiton Silva in check. We have also seen him drop back as an auxiliary centre-back during certain moments in matches where Habas has played a back four. That might also be an option for the Mariners head coach as he tries to nullify the threat possessed by Bengaluru and set up his side for a win at the same time.

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