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The Artist vs The Engineer

The Artist vs The Engineer

Kibu Vicuna is starting his journey at his new club taking on his successor at his previous club. So for him, this match will be about either passing the torch to his old team or taking the torch away from them. That aspect sets up a dramatic clash between two head coaches who have styles that sharply contrast each other.

Antonio Habas has been in the ISL from the beginning. At ATK and FC Pune City, two erstwhie franchises, he has been at the helm of four campaigns, out of which he has won the ISL playoffs twice. But interestingly, even with the advantages he got in the earlier days of ISL thanks to Atletico de Madrid helping ATK, and the subsequent monetary advantages, he never managed to finish at the top of the table. That wasn't an issue when the ISL was just a tournament, but now that it's become the top flight league and AFC recognizes the table toppers (who win the League Winners' Shield) as the Champions of India, finishing top four then winning the playoffs no longer represents "success" the way it used to. On top of that, at Pune City, when he didn't have the advantage of a La Liga club's assistance or monetary advantage in the transfer market, Habas delivered a performance that was mediocre & bland, which puts a further question mark on his performance as a head coach.

Meanwhile, Kibu Vicuna achieved just that with Mohun Bagan on his very first season with the club. The Mariners' I-League 2019-20 campaign is one of the most dominant in the history of Indian football, and left the competition miles behind. Even though the league itself could not be completed due to COVID-19, Mohun Bagan had already won the league in terms of points. And on top of that, their style of play became a phenomenon. A creative midfield crafted by Vicuna ruled the league, and produced spectacular goals. So much so that a particular 26-pass goal that Mohun Bagan scored against Churchill Brothers was used as an example of Indian football's improving standards by AIFF. A lot of foreign coaches have tried to change a team's style of play, no one has found success like Vicuna. But he is yet to prove himself in the ISL, at a club other that's very different from Mohun Bagan. In a way, he's at the same crossroads moment that Habas experienced when he joined Pune City.

On the other hand, Habas's playing style, while highly effective in playoffs, has been criticised as being less flamboyant and more industrial with emphasis on safety-first conservative gameplay. It has also been cited as a possible reason that ATK FC, which often had the best teams on paper, never finished at the top of the ISL points table during its six year life span, half of them under Habas.

Both Vicuna and Habas are Spaniards. Habas is 15 years older and has 12 years' more experience than Vicuna, and more silverware in his cabinet. Yet, while he can boast of being the most successful coach in ISL history, he can't yet claim to be the undisputed best, like Vicuna can for last season's I-League. Compared to Vicuna's memorable artistry, Habas's record is that of an engineer who sticks to tried-and-tested methods. 

So on Friday when these two teams clash, it won't just be about passing the torch. It will be a clash of the two coaches' contrasting philosophies as well.

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