Kolkata: ATK's Englishman head coach Teddy Sheringham on Sunday said that the sheer number of fans who turn up at the Indian Super League matches was the biggest reason he agreed to come to India.
"I was initially skeptical and asked myself whether I needed to come all the way to India to manage a team. I spoke to people like Steve Coppell (Jamshedpur FC's current head coach) and even David James (former Kerala Blasters head coach) and they all had good things to say about the league," Sheringham said at the ISL Media Day here.
"When I was told we'll be playing in front of 60,000 supporters, I thought that's the sort of atmosphere I want to manage a team," said the former Manchester United striker. Defending champions ATK play Kerala Blasters in Kochi in the opening match of the fourth season, and Sheringham said he was cherishing playing against the Yellow Army, even though it would be a hostile atmosphere.
"It will be an obvious challenge but if it came down to choosing to play in front of 3,000 or 60,000, I would choose the latter. I expect a large number of fans even at the Salt Lake stadium during our home games," he said. 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," the 51-year-old 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 described 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 fans on their side.
He also confirmed that ATK will be without their star signing Robbie Keane, who is nursing an achilles injury and will not be part of the opener. "I won't lie. It is a big blow to the team but it's a minor injury and we hope that he's back with us in two weeks," he said.