ATK deny Teddy extra-time to redeem himself
When Teddy Sheringham met the media in Kolkata ahead of the start of the Indian Super League (ISL) season last November, one of the first statements he made was a clear indication of how, and why, he was on a hiding onto nothing as ATK head coach.
"The club is trying to retain the championship but other than two or three players, everything has changed. Mr Goenka [ATK's principal owner Sanjiv Goenka] has made it clear he's accustomed to winning. There's no second-best at this club," the former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur striker had said.
It was a curious choice in management for the defending champions, especially given their old association with La Liga club Atletico Madrid, one that came to an end ahead of the 2017-18 season. The Madrid connection had given them two outstanding Spanish coaches in Antonio Habas and Jose Molina across the first three seasons, with Habas leading them to a title in 2014 and Molina emulating his compatriot in 2016.
In contrast, Sheringham brought with him limited managerial experience - in two years at Stevenage in England, he had won just seven and lost 16 of 33 matches in charge - and took charge of a champion team making wholesale changes in personnel.
None of the foreign players from past seasons were retained, and not having Borja Fernandez in the centre of midfield, or Iain Hume in attack, or Sameehg Doutie on the wings, or Tiri in defence were unfamiliar sights for one of the most consistent teams in the history of the league.
The Indian players retained were goalkeeper Debjit Majumder and wide player Prabir Das, but the domestic players' draft gave them hope. Technical director Ashley Westwood brought in a number of players he had worked with while coach at Bengaluru FC in the I-League, and the addition of names like Robin Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh promised much.
Robbie Keane came on as the inspirational foreign player, but an injury meant he could only make his first appearance off the bench in their fourth match of the season. ATK scored just three times in those four matches, and lost two of them. Lyngdoh sustained a knee injury in the course of the first match of the season in Jamshedpur on December 1, and has not been seen since.
That ATK have still managed to pull through with three wins has been impressive given they have often taken to the field without their key players, but that papers over the fact that all three wins were 1-0 results. Barring one away win to Mumbai City FC, the other teams they beat were Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United, both of whom have struggled to find any rhythm of their own this season.
Keane's two goals have been overshadowed by reports of him wanting to return to England with Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the only foreign player who has stood out with his consistent work rate has been striker Zequinha.
As a team, they have still found goals hard to come by, and without the reassuring presence of Borja or any player like him in midfield, they have also been susceptible at the back. ATK's chances of making the playoffs are slim, if not completely finished.
Sheringham was new to the job, and with this abrupt dismissal in a season where he began with scarce resources and only saw issues mount with his team, we will never know if he could have grown into it with time.