With most teams making it to a final, there are any number of reasons to get there. However, when it comes to ATK Mohun Bagan and the 2022-23 Indian Super League Final, there are plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t have been there.
Here’s how ATKMB defied football logic to alter the odds, despite a lot going wrong for them:
They had a lousy start to the season.
There are good pre-seasons, there are bad pre-seasons, and there is everything that ATK Mohun Bagan had before the 2022-23 ISL season began. First, they came into the Durand Cup with an air of ‘we’ve got more important things to focus on’ and were knocked out in the group stage.
They were then kicked out of said ‘bigger thing’, the AFC Cup, by little-fan Kuala Lampur City FC, conceding twice AFTER the 90th minute.
That lousy start resulted in a style of play at odds with the philosophy of his coach
A direct consequence of that KL City capitulation was that Ferrando’s expansive Catalan™ football was abandoned. He took out all the fun, the goals and the reversed wingers with complete freedom. Instead, the mantra became solidity, discipline, a little more solidity. Sit on a low block and venture forward when necessary. Maybe switch to a mid block if the opponent just can’t be bothered.
At times, it almost felt as if Antonio Habas had never left. Ferrando had been brought in to change Habas’ pragmatic, ultra-defensive ways and there were glimpses of that happening last season. This time, however, the team returned to the average.
They barely scored or created chances
ATK Mohun Bagan scored just 26 goals all season, in 23 games (21 in 22 by taking all five against Kerala Blasters). The only teams that scored less were the bottom three in the league. They relied almost entirely on two players for those goals: Dimitri Petratos (10 W, 7 A) and Hugo Boumous (5 W, 4 A) with a combined 26 goal contributions. No Dimi, no Hugo, absolutely no parties.
Also, Ferrando’s team only created 23 big chances all season (again, only three teams created fewer).
His best player from last season faded, bad
Liston Colaco went from contributing a goal every 117 minutes to one every 267 minutes this year, now basically a shadow of his former self. In part, this was the result of Liston playing alongside Boumous and Petratos, who like to slide into the left inside channel and fill the kinds of spaces Liston loves to operate in.
This meant that whenever he got into the kind of shooting position he liked, it was crowded, with his own players and opponents trying to shut them all down. It led to a lack of the kind of confidence a player like him needs: taking on opponents one on one, shooting from outrageous positions, just being who you can really be.
They lost four key players to long-term injuries.
Florentin Pogba had been signed, with great fanfare, and immediately named captain. Also, almost immediately, he was injured. That ruled out a centre-back that the coach would have depended on week after week. Also ruled out for the season was Tiri, an integral part of the ATKMB defense for two seasons. And in the middle, Deepak Tangri, a fighter for a key midfielder in Ferrando’s Plan A (off-the-ball aggression).
The biggest blow, however, was Joni Kauko, whose season ended very early (six games). With Kauko, ATKMB seemed capable of being a Ferrando team in theory, all fun, jazz, excitement and full of goals. Without it, they look like what they do now. as simple as
They even managed to lose against the only team that no one loses against.
NorthEast United only had one win all season. In twenty complete games, they beat only one team. We’ll give you a guess which team it was.
Annoying, capital U.
Inevitable, despite everything
And yet here they are. In the final of the 2022-23 season of the Indian Super League. Logic would dictate that they shouldn’t be here. However, what logic does not know is that they are who they are.
Call them ATK, call them Mohun Bagan, call them ATK Mohun Bagan – when the biggest matches in Indian football take place, they are almost always there.
Football heritage, both old and new rich.