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regular-article-logo Monday, 27 May 2024

League Shield is very important for me and club: Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas

Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s Spanish coach is on a high after the Sanjiv Goenka-owned team lifted the League Shield defeating Mumbai City FC 2-1 at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday

Angshuman Roy Calcutta Published 17.04.24, 10:44 AM
Mohun Bagan Super Giant coach Antonio Lopez Habas celebrates with the ISL League Shield at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday.

Mohun Bagan Super Giant coach Antonio Lopez Habas celebrates with the ISL League Shield at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday. Santosh Ghosh

Antonio Lopez Habas prefers messages over voice. “My understanding of English by phone is not from Shakespeare language scholars,” he told The Telegraph on Tuesday. He meant he was not that comfortable in English while speaking and as it is there is always that fear of being misquoted.

He missed three matches due to illness but was on the bench for the crucial ‘final’ league game. “I am better now,” he assured.

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Mohun Bagan Super Giant’s Spanish coach is on a high after the Sanjiv Goenka-owned team lifted the League Shield defeating Mumbai City FC 2-1 at the Salt Lake Stadium on Monday. “This trophy (Shield) is very important to me and the Club,” he said.

True. This is the first time Bagan have won the Shield, which means they are champions of the league stage and have earned a berth for the AFC Champions League 2.

In December-end last year though, it had seemed Bagan’s season would unravel after three consecutive losses. Defeats against Mumbai City (1-2, December 20), FC Goa (1-4, December 23) and Kerala Blasters (0-1, December 27) prompted the Bagan brass to part ways with Juan Ferrando and bring in Habas, who was till then the technical director.

There were stories of a fractured dressing room, low morale and lack of self-belief in the ranks under Ferrando. But once Habas took over and there were minor tweaks in the formation, the boat just sailed.

As Dimitri Petratos said at the mixed zone. “The new coach came and he got us as one. We were brothers who fought from the first till the last whistle,” Petratos, who had a role in both the goals (Liston Colaco and Jason Cummings) Bagan scored on Monday, said.

“The target was to enter the final playoff. I knew the team because I was the Sports Director and I knew there was potential to get something important. The players understood the demands and we achieved it,” was how Habas put it.

One of the most important things Habas did was to draft in midfielder Joni Kauko. The Finn got injured in the early part of the 2022-23 season and as expected was not in Ferrando’s scheme of things when the new season kicked off. Once he came in — Hugo Boumous was shown the exit door — Bagan looked all the more dangerous.

“True. But on Monday he had a light discomfort in the back of the thigh. Heat, humidity. You have to understand summer temperature in Finland may not exceed 15 degrees Celsius and here it is different,” he said.

Bagan now have won the Durand Cup (under Ferrando) and the Shield. Two more wins in this ISL (two-legged semi-final and the final) and they will complete the treble.

Cummings already blew the bugle on Monday when he said: “We want to complete the treble.”

Habas though is much more cautious. “Step by step,” he signed off.

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