After two forgettable seasons with Delhi Dynamos, Pritam Kotal hoped to regain his form by joining ATK in January 2019.
He went on to start six games after his return to Kolkata during the middle of 2018-19 season. After two disappointing seasons with Delhi Dynamos, the India international right-back needed to get back to his best. ATK themselves were not doing really well and had parted ways with Steve Coppell before the 2019-20 season with Antonio Habas coming in.
And Kotal has delivered the goods for Habas' team this time around.
Kotal has returned to the limelight in style, starting all 18 league games for the Kolkata-based club in their cruise to the playoffs. He is part of a talented squad but has fought for his place in the first team with consistent displays under a head coach who has proved to be strict with his selection of players. He has managed to impress Habas and at 26, it can be said that Kotal is peaking at the right time.
The former Mohun Bagan full-back has played every single minute in ISL so far and is the undisputed first-choice as a right centre-back in Habas' three-man defence. It can be tough for some players to settle into a new role quickly after having failed to succeed for three seasons but Kotal obliged and later, reaped the rewards.
It is certainly commendable that Kotal, who is playing in a three-man defensive system for the very first time in his career, has adjusted to Habas’ tactics like a duck to water. His time at Indian Arrows where he played as a centre-back has also helped.
"When I signed for ATK, I was told that I have to play in my usual right-back position. But when Habas came in he asked me if I can play as a centre-back. Since I had played as a stopper at Indian Arrows and during the early days of my career, I readily obliged," Kotal told Goal .
"Habas gave me a lot of confidence. That helped a lot. I had to adjust my positioning. As a centre back, you don't go on overlaps. Rather, you have to read the game better and anticipate the next move of the striker. Also, you have to be a bit more physical as you are likely to go up in duels more often. So these are some of the aspects I had worked on."
Kotal has adjusted very well at centre-back alongside Agus Garcia and Sumeet Rathi and more recently, Victor Mongil. He has been part of the second-best defence in the league and will now be up against Bengaluru FC in a two-legged semi-final.
Kotal has done a commendable job of covering for the marauding Prabir Das who is known to make foraying runs into the opposition box which often leaves acres of space behind.
Purely going by form, Kotal is currently India’s best centre-back as Rahul Bheke has featured more often than not as a full-back for Bengaluru FC while Adil Khan had a subpar season with Hyderabad FC. It will be interesting to see if Kotal is considered as a centre-back for the national team.
"With three matches to go, I am thinking of nothing but winning the title. We have come close but the job is yet to be done," he said.