ISL 2020-21:Kibu Vicuna may have coached Mohun Bagan to the I-League title last season but ISL is a different tournament altogether, ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Antonio Lopez Habas warned his Kerala Blasters counterpart on Thursday.
Behind closed doors, both teams will lock horns in Bambolim, Goa on Friday to kick off the seventh ISL.
Vicuna’s first challenge will be against his former team in a new avatar, thanks to the Mariners’ merger with three-time defending ISL champions ATK.
“Kibu Vicuna did good work in Mohun Bagan, but this year it is a different competition and different season.
“I have the utmost respect for him but on Friday we will try to get three points as we work every day for that,” the most successful ISL coach, Habas said on the eve of the opener.
While most of the franchisees played more than one friendly games in the lead-up, the ISL-winning coach cancelled their scheduled pre-season match against FC Goa.
“We didn’t consider it necessary to play friendlies in pre-season because this is a different and special pre-season,” Habas said.
“I think it is more difficult to play against your own teammates than other opponents. The friendly match this season did not have the proper conditions to play.
“There would have been no referees and we had to play on the training pitch. Therefore it was better to play among us,” the former Las Palmas coach said.
Habas has retained the core of his ATK squad, while making significant additions in the already strong defensive line-up, with high-profile acquisitions of Sandesh Jhingan and Tiri.
From the I-League-winning Mohun Bagan squad, they have retained Sheikh Sahil and Avilas Pal.
But Habas said they want to stay grounded and strive for three points in every match.
“I think we can call ourselves favourites in March-April. Right now we have to keep our heads down and work hard in every match to get the three points,” he said.
In an unusual move, Habas had named five captains this season in his 27-member squad.
“We have a very good squad. In this situation, it is very important to have a good squad. We need rotation in this season more than any other season.
“Roy (Krishna) and (David) Williams are as important as any other player in the team. I am very happy with the new additions. They all want to win. They have a good attitude.”
ATK Mohun Bagan will also play in the AFC Cup this season and Habas said his priority is to do well internationally as well.
“I have the same ambition and that is to build a competitive team and get success, first in ISL and then in any other international competitions,” he said.
The Habas-coached side conceded only 19 goals in 21 matches during their triumphant campaign last season and with the addition of Tiri and Jhingan, their defence will be the one to watch out for.
Jhingan will be returning to action after a lengthy injury layoff and Habas said: “Sandesh (Jhingan) has the same chance to feature in the XI as other players. He has not played for a long time and other players also haven’t played for around six-seven months. The chances are equal.”