Khelnow analyses the possible reasons why the reigning I-League champions have hit a rough patch in all competitions after a bright start to the season…
Bengaluru FC have been associated with a lot of positive aspects since their inception in 2013. The professional way in which they go about in each aspect of their functioning, their vocal fan base and the fact that they have already wrapped up 2 I-League titles in addition to a dream run to the AFC Cup final have been appreciated by media and fans in India and abroad.
When Albert Roca was hired to replace the outgoing Ashley Westwood, who was a vital cog in this club’s success, it was seen as a natural progression to take the side to the next level. The Spaniard’s influence was soon seen as he led the club to the AFC Cup final, the first ever for an Indian club.
The 2017 I-League season was supposed to be the platform for Roca to further establish his system and gun for the AFC Champions League. After a bright start to the season with 3 consecutive wins in the I-League, the Blues have lost their way with 2 straight defeats in the I-League and a narrow loss to Al-Wihdat in the AFC Champions League preliminary rounds. Before their weekend game against DSK Shivajians, we take a look at the possible reasons why Bengaluru have suffered this dip in form.
Albert Roca has possibly under-estimated the I-League
The Indian domestic league is a definite work in progress. Despite its long existence, it is sadly still finding its feet. While there are quality teams like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers and Dempo, the rest of the league still lags behind in quality, organization and a quality fan base.
Roca’s dream run with Bengaluru to the AFC Cup finals was seen as a marker of what’s to come in his first full season in the I-League. Fans had every reason to be optimistic of retaining the league title. What turned out was a shocking reminder of not taking any games for granted. While East Bengal are definitely in the running as a legitimate title challenger, the loss to Churchill Brothers was where fans knew that something was amiss.
One possible reason could be that Roca could have surely under-estimated the challenge that each team poses in the I-League. Granted, that some of the teams may not have the same level of preparation and organization as Bengaluru, but it is no reason to take any game lightly. The loss to Churchill will no doubt have been a rude awakening for the former Barcelona assistant coach and he would look to make amends starting with the game against DSK.
Change in transfer policy and Roca’s inability to find his first team
Bengaluru FC was seen as the new breeding ground for young players that would go on to serve the club and the national side. The likes of Nishu Kumar, Udanta Singh, Shankar Sampingiraj, Seminlen Doungel, Salam Rajan Singh were brought in with an eye on the future as they settled into a team that already boasted of quality in the form of CK Vineeth, Sunil Chhetri, John Johnson, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Cameron Watson.
Bengaluru FC in action against Al Wihdat in Jordan. The visitors lost 2-1
However, this season saw a shift in the way the club has gone about their transfers. They have opted to bring in players with proven I-League caliber in Lenny Rodrigues, Harmanjot Khabra, Arindam Bhattacharya and Sandesh Jhingan. While Lenny and Khabra have settled into the team, Jhingan has only made the solitary appearance as a substitute against Mumbai while Arindam is yet to feature. Young players like Alwyn George and Mandar Rao Desai have found game time hard to come by while Daniel, Sena Ralte and Nishu Kumar have impressed in patches.
Roca now has depth in each position no doubt, but it poses a problem as to what his best team is. If this can be figured out, it will make it easier to rotate the squad keeping this in mind and help him give ample game time to the other members of the squad. This is a problem that Carlo Ancelotti faced in his final season at Chelsea. They too got off to a strong start, but a few losses nearly derailed their campaign. His reluctance to freshen things up with the other members of the squad saw the club face a dreadful run of form before their miraculous recovery in the latter half of the season. Roca can take a lesson from this incident and look to change things for the greater benefit of the team.
Focus on continental competition hurting I-League aspirations
Bengaluru’s strong run to the AFC Cup finals was historic, but has also raised expectations from the Garden City club for subsequent seasons. The club signed players keeping this very fact in mind and now they have depth in each position. However, it has also seen Roca tailoring his team’s preparations with a greater focus on the continental competitions. This has seen their league form take a backseat.
A parallel can be drawn with Leicester City’s form in the ongoing Premier League season. They defied expectations and logic to win the Premier League the previous year and suddenly expectations were high for Claudio Ranieri’s team. While they are in the knockout phases of the Champions League, their league form has been below par to say the least. Ranieri was clear on what his focus was this year having over-achieved in the previous year.
While I-League and AFC Cup/AFC Champions League are yet to reach the levels of the Premier League and Champions League, Roca will need to find a balance to ensure that his team retains focus equally and compete on all fronts.
The three consecutive defeats should be an eye-opener of sorts for the Spaniard coach. Languishing at the fourth position after five games, the holders would need to put their foot down and ensure they do what they’ve been doing best, play quality football on the pitch. Against a talented side like DSK, Roca will have to sort out his best XI, to get his league campaign and form back on track.
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