It has been more than two weeks when Kolkata based Indian Super League (ISL) franchise ATK FC made history as they became the first team to lift the ISL trophy three times.
Under the reins of Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas ATK regained its lost glory. While Habas was praised for ATK’s title winning campaign, his deputy ATK’s assistant coach Manuel Perez Cascallana, a UEFA pro licence holding sports scientist, work with the team was equally commendable. The Bridge got in a candid chat with the 30 years old Spaniard as he spoke about the way to this success, his first experience at India and his plans for the next season.
The Bridge: So, Manuel, how are you spending this lockdown break?
Manuel: Well I am spending the lockdown break here at India staying in a hotel in the lovely beach of Goa, keeping myself engaged with the social media and reading some books about football. As you know passion can never be disconnected from a man and for me its cent percent football.
The Bridge: This was your first time in India and you have won the trophy in your first tenure. How has been your time here at India and how do you feel about success?
Manuel: Yes, as you say it was my first time in India and it was amazing. The seven months that we spent here was very engaging and fruitful. We came to India on August 26th and started our preseason. It was a long preseason of almost two months before we faced Kerala in our first match at Kochi. We worked hard all through this time as we came with a goal to lift the third ISL trophy for ATK and to take the club to greater heights. I am really proud of the team work and our staffs as it’s the whole team on and off the pitch who made the mission possible. The fans were amazing as it was a really a good season for us. But for now, we are on for the next season as we don’t want to stop here and do better next season. So, let’s see how we can do it. We are building in a stronger team as we aspire to do big things in India and in Asia.
The Bridge: With ISL finished do you think this break will provide you with an ample time to prepare for the next season?
Manuel: Yes of course this time will provide us an ample time for the preparations of the next season. We are talking every day with our staffs and members of the management as we are now discussing and checking with the different possibilities that the next season can bring for us. As I said earlier we really want to do better. It was a dream for all of us to lift the trophy once again as Antonio did in the first season as you know he was here in the first two season. But we had a complete new team with new foreign players so lifting the trophy was really very difficult but we made it. So now with time and knowing the players and knowing the players we want to keep and the ones we want to sign in, this break is very good for us.
Manuel: Well its my first season in India so I can’t talk about what was happening before but I was with our coach in all the press conferences throughout the season and he was being asked this question by the journalists. He said Indian football has improved a lot. We need to improve the grass roots the kits and most importantly the coaches if we want to see India at next level. We really want to see India in the top levels of Asia playing against the top teams and trying to beat them. For that we have to improve a lot of things beginning from the grassroots. There are not so many good quality kits in the best condition possible and it’s a big problem. We can solve the problem if the government, different brands invest a little bit of money on that. Then Indian football can improve a lot in the next season.
The Bridge: What are the areas that you think needs to be improved?
Manuel: The development should start from the level of the academy and youth development. All the clubs should have at least two teams every year so that you have more players and more possibilities for these players to reach the first team of the club. For example, I know Jamshedpur is doing good in their academy, Bengalore is also doing great in the grass roots. ATK has done a very good job in the last two years we have U-18 team that for me has done unbelievable job this season. We (senior team staffs) trained them once in a week like planning our next game and simulating actions that we expect to happen. I think that’s very important to maintain a good communication between the senior and the developing team. But the players need to train in good pitches and with good kits. Well educated coach is the most important part as they need to teach the players in details about the game. What is football and understanding what the game really is. You can see for example in cricket India is one of the best teams in the world and as you go outside you see more people playing cricket in the street. So you can understand that they are being training from a very early age in the childhood. But in our team, we have some players who have started playing football at the age of twelve or thirteen which is very difficult. In China they start playing football at the age of three or four. That’s why its important to start the development from the childhood stage and India is really working on it. I hope that the things will develop a lo in three- four years and we are expecting to see a good bunch of well-trained players coming up from the syste.
The Bridge: ATK this time made a new statement in regard to their grass-root system as their academy product Sumit Rathi bagged a promotion to the senior team and came out to be a key player in the Championship run. What’s your take on it?
Manuel: Sumit is the mirror where all the academy players of ATK should look and think if he can get there, we can also make it. Of course, we will take care of our academy and we will prefer to promote our own players over buying players from other clubs. But right now, it’s very difficult cause we have just started. In spite of that we have two players in the reserve team and two in the U-18 team who have done really good and have a promising career ahead. If all goes right, we may promote some of them to the senior team next season. About Sumit, he is a really good player. You can se he is just 19 years old he trains hard every day, wants to learn and is always positive in every training session. He started in the second half against Odisha at Pune and there after he has become an important player in our defensive line. But you cannot put pressure on him and we have to remember he is just 19 years old and he has to learn a lot. He had a lot of good players in the team to learn like Anas, Pritam, Prabir and Agus. He has to work harder for the future as he is a reality now. People now know that he can play for ATK and also for his national team as he grabbed a national team call from Igor Stimac.
The Bridge: Your future plans with the ATK-MB academy?
Manuel: Sanjoy Sen is currently the in charge of the developmental academy and he is a very comfortable person to work with. He focusses on having good coaches. Deggie Cardozo is a very good coach he takes care of the reserve team and the U-18 team. The age groups coach are also persons with good qualities. So, our job is to continue developing good players who can understand different formations in football. Not only playing pass or counter attack or long ball but also, they have to know all about football as they need to understand the moments and situations of the game and its possibilities. That’s the sole goal of our academy for next season.
The Bridge: What did this Covid-19 outbreak taught you?
Manuel: Now we are fighting against a virus all around the world not only in India or not only in Spain but all through the globe so it’s the time to stand together. We should follow the instructions from the government and the most important thing is that we need to be united. As it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, what class you belong because this virus doesn’t come in you judging how much money you have. So, we need to stay strong and stay home with all unity.