Not having Keane for first few games a bit of blow: ATK coach

Kolkata, Nov 12 (IANS) Not having ATK forward Robbie Keane for the first couple of weeks of the fourth Indian Super League (ISL) is a “bit of a blow” early on in their campaign, head coach Teddy Sheringham said on Sunday.

“He has picked up a little bit of a achilles problem when we were in pre-season training in Dubai. We tried to keep him off it for a few days when we got back here but it’s persistent so he is getting an injection in it. He could be out for a couple of weeks,” Sheringham told reporters here during the ISL media day.

“It’s a bit of a blow. I am not going to lie. But we have got a squad of 25 very capable players and someone else will fill in those shoes. I have no qualms in putting on those players in there to take Robbie’s place,” said the English former Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur star, in his first year as coach of the defending champions.

The ATk will take on Kerala Blasters in the season’s first match in Kochi on November 17 followed by FC Pune City also away.

Keane, who has scored four goals in as many practice matches, is expected to miss the first two matches at least.

English midfielder Conor Thomas, also in his first stint with the two-time champions, added that he was pleasantly surprised with how quickly they gelled with the Indian players.

“I was quite surprised with how quickly foreigners got along with Indian players. The squad is in a very good place at the moment and we are looking forward to our first game,” Thomas said.

Fellow Englishman Carl Becker is also nursing an injury. Asked about his status, Thomas said: “It’s been great having him here on and off the field. We are both on the same boat in terms of settling in. We understand each other’s play.

“Regarding his injury, he has had a scan and I am not sure how long it’s looking at at the moment. He is going to see a specialist I think and they will go from there. I am there if he needs me.”

Sheringham was asked if there would be added pressure on him owing to the fact that ATK have been the most successful team in the cash-rich league. The 51-year-old treble winner said while every team would vie for the title, his job is to carry forward the team’s winning habit.

“Not really. I always put pressure on myself..to do well and try to win. All ten managers want to win the league and it’s not different for me. Yes the club won the league the last two times out of three but we will all be vying for it. The club has got used to winning things and I would like to carry that forward. I am here to do that,” he said.

On the Indian players at his disposal, Sheringham said: “I have been very impressed with all the players in the squad. I was a little bit pessimistic when we did the draft. I did not think the players would be as good as they are. So I have been nicely impressed and even the ones that we knew were good have impressed as well. I am quite delighted.”

Sheringham was asked whether he would have preferred an easier opening game, but he saw the positive side in starting the campaign against Kerala Blasters in what will be a repeat of last season’s final, which ATK won 4-3 on penalties.

“It will be good to start in the sort of atmosphere where I’ve wanted to pit my brains against other teams. It will be tough, but it will be great if we can do well in front of 60,000 fans cheering our opponents,” he said.

The ATK vs Kerala Blasters rivalry has grown over the past few seasons, with the Kolkata side not having lost to the southern club in five matches. That said, Sheringham earmarked the Blasters as the biggest threat to ATK’s ambitions.

“I was asked very early as to who I thought were a very strong team and it came down to the one which has fans who act like a 12th man, which is Kerala Blasters. Having passionate fans is a great thing but we’ve all faced in our career moments where they turn against you and demand more from the team,” Sheringham said, highlighting how teams need to perform well to keep the fans on their side.

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