Away from the glitz and glamour of the ISL the Garden City club are scripting one of the most remarkable fairytales in Asian football.
The term “under the radar” is one that is usually reserved for things or people who just do their tasks away from the glamour and limelight. While the star-studded Indian Super League (ISL) aims to carry the banner of Indian football, it is in fact eclipsing an event that can make fans across the world sit up and rethink about Indian football.
Bengaluru FC (BFC), from the I-League, is in a position where they have a chance to do one better than Dempo SC and East Bengal. The Garden City club will play the Second leg of their AFC Cup Semi-Final clash against Malaysian club JDT at the Kanteerava Stadium this coming Wednesday and have the chance to be the first Indian club to reach the Final of the continental tournament. The Blues pulled off an admirable 1-1 draw against the reigning AFC Cup champions in the first leg on 28th September thanks to a stunner from Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
The enormity of this achievement cannot possibly be understated. For a club that is just into its third year of existence, they have already won two I-League titles in addition to garnering a fan base that is one to behold. Under new coach Albert Roca, BFC have an astute tactician who knows how to win games having been part of the Barcelona machine under Frank Rijkaard. Much has been written about how the ISL can be the new dawn of Indian football, but in fact clubs would just need to take a look at Bengaluru FC to see how by just doing the right things and in the right way, the I-League need not be replaced as India’s primary league.
Most importantly, the club is run by extremely passionate executives from the JSW Group who are keen to turn BFC into a national superpower in addition to retaining a fan base who will pack the stadium week in week out. In just 3 years, the club has become the example club on how fan involvement, bringing in globally recognized training regimes and a focus on talent development can reap benefits in the long term. In Ashley Westwood, they found a coach who does not accept anything less than a 100%. Westwood brought with him a desire to prove that he could deliver in one of the most frustrating and challenging football environments in the world. His team at BFC identified players who were largely ignored by the other I-League clubs and fit them into a system that was centered on possession and team ethic. With marquee player Sunil Chhetri in the ranks, Westwood complemented the Indian presence with astute signings such as John Johnson, Curtis Osano and John Menyongar.
The Blues romped to a maiden I-League title and missed out narrowly to Mohun Bagan the following season. But what never changed was the desire of the team to win and win in the right way. The club never lost sight of nurturing young talent as their BFC Football School launched in 2014 and Bengaluru FC Academy in 2016 are set to be the supply line for the first team at club and national level. The core of the team has always been a mixture of experience supplemented with the dynamism of youth. This is something that the ISL has failed to do as each club is allowed to field 6 foreigners in the starting XI. Such a rule does not allow young Indian talent to thrive.
It would be unfair to say that the coach and the players were the sole reason for BFC’s rise in Indian football. The fans of the club turned up in large numbers on every matchday and in no time saw players getting their own chants and the stadium becoming a cauldron of noise. The West Block Blues, BFC’s very own fan club, spare no effort in cheering on their team and intimidating the opposition with tifos, a feat that was till then unheard in Indian football.
The club now has a chance to add another feather in their cap of first’s as they are 90 minutes away from making history. 19th October would be a day when Bill Shankly’s immortal words would be personified- “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”
Editorial by Khel Now-Feature Columnist Srinivasan Mohan , Srinivasan Mohan is an ardent football fan from the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and an MBA in Marketing. He has been following football since 2000 and is an ardent Bayern Munich and Chelsea supporter. He has had stints with Goal.com and 90Minutes magazine. Srini as he is commonly know, is someone who loves writing on the Bundesliga and is also fascinated by Serie A. Apart from writing, he spends his time drumming, reading, and working out. You can follow him on Twitter.