By Debayan Mukherjee
Fatorda (Goa), March 15 (IANS) The target for ATK, who became the first club to win three Indian Super League (ISL) titles here on Saturday night, will always be to remain the best club in India, their head coach Antonio Habas said.
ATK will merge with I-League winners Mohun Bagan from next season into ATK-Mohun Bagan.
ATK rode Spanish midfielder Javi Hernandez’s brace to defeat Chennaiyin FC 3-1 and grab their third title in a riveting closed-door final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
“I don’t have any planning for that. Mohun Bagan is a big club in India, but we have to work with the same target to be the best club in India,” Habas said at the post match media conference when asked about the merger and his plans if he is the coach of the rechristened side.
Habas became the most successful coach in ISL’s short history after winning his second title with ATK. The Spaniard guided the team to the inaugural crown in 2014. ATK were second time champions under Jose Molina in 2016.
“The way people love me, I love ATK. I didn’t have a team in June and when ATK contacted me, I immediately agreed to join them because I had a special feeling with ATK from the first season and now I feel like continuing. I am waiting for a contract,” said Habas who returned to the club after three seasons.
Asked to compare this triumph with the first season title win, the former Valencia assistant coach said: “It’s (this title win) different because in the first season the ISL was not so competitive. Now it is more professional with better coaches and players, more time to the competition.
“I have to congratulate the players for their fantastic work throughout the season. We had a few problems with injuries with Carl McHugh and then Agus and Roy in the final today, but the strength of the team was the collective.
“We had to move in the market after the injury of Carl McHugh. And, after the problem to Agus, the team had some problems for two-to-three matches, but the strength of the group saved the situation. I think the mix between the Indian and foreign players was fantastic. This is the secret to our success,” he said.
Hernandez (10′, 90+3′) opened the scoring for ATK and capped off their summit clash with a stoppage time winner.
Edu Garcia (48th) doubled ATK’s lead before Nerijus Valkis (69th) pulled one back for two-time winners Chennaiyin.
But deep into second half stoppage time, Garcia rounded goalkeeper Vishal Kaith after being teed up by Pronay Halder to score the winner and spark wild celebrations.
ATK were dealt a body blow five minutes before halftime when Roy Krishna, their highest scorer and skipper, had to be substituted after he clutched his left hamstring in pain and could not continue.
“I think the match had two different parts. After the injury to Roy, we were nervous and we needed the personality to keep the scoreline intact. In the end, ATK scored three goals to one and we won,” Habas said.
“Today, in the second half we didn’t play well because we were afraid of losing our lead. It’s normal also, but we had fantastic behaviour. In some matches you can win while playing like this,” he explained.