KOCHI: The new road-map for Indian football will be set in motion when Kerala Blasters face ATK in the opening game of the sixth edition of ISL. The ten participating teams — including new entrants Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC — will now officially be playing in the top division in India. The team that ends up top after the league stage will automatically qualify for AFC Champions League playoffs. For Kerala Blasters coach Eelco Schattorie, the focus remains on the league phase and all his energies will be focussed on topping the league. “I think that’s the top spot.
I’m a big fan of the system where the team that has the most points are the champions,” Schattorie said while responding to the question on whether Blasters would be focusing on the top spot or the cup. The Dutchman is happy settling for Champions League qualification. “It’s not that I’m against the format but in the end, as a sportsman and as a coach, I always feel that the team that has the most points should be the champion,” the Dutchman said. Defending champions Bengaluru FC and last season’s runner-up FC Goa will go in as favourites.
The likes of Blasters and ATK were miles away from them last season and their main aim will be to close the gap. Both Blasters and ATK will be fielding new-look squads with new coaches for the 2019-20 season. “ATK, NorthEast United FC and Kerala (Blasters) have had the most amount of coaches. So, it is all about getting stability,” said Schattorie. Barring Sandesh Jhingan, Sahal Abdul Samad and K Prasanth, the rest of the Blasters squad is new.
But they won’t have the services of Jhingan who is out with a long term injury. ATK have brought back excoach Antonio Habas and have splurged in the market. Though these two sides have met each other twice in the final, with an entirely new set of players facing each other, it is difficult to predict who will run out winners on Sunday or how their seasons will pan out. In the larger picture, it remains to be seen if the league settles down and clubs find the stability that Schattorie is talking about.
“In most European countries, coaches get together and evaluate how the season was at the end of the season and they come back to the federation to improve. Here, I never got together with anyone. These are small things but they matter,” he said. The immediate focus for Schattorie though will be the opener and the three points.