The Blues will play their opening Durand Cup 2021 clash against Kerala Blasters on Wednesday.

Bengaluru FC will make their third appearance in the prestigious Durand Cup this year. For this, they have fielded a side that is “a mix of first-team players and Blue Colts.” In other words, a squad that comprises 10 players from their ‘B’ team and two U-18 players as per their “continuous player development philosophy.” Ahead of the opener, coach Naushad Moosa spoke at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

The Blues have been placed alongside the Indian Navy, Delhi FC and arch-rivals Kerala Blasters in Group C. While the group’s fixtures have already commenced, Bengaluru FC haven’t yet opened their campaign. They will do so on 15 September when they take on Kerala Blasters at the Mohun Bagan Ground.

Preparations for tournament

First up, he was asked about the team’s preparations coming into the tournament; as a result of having played the AFC Cup last month and fielding a revamped side this time around. “Everything is good. We had a long pre-season. But, what we’ve done is get a squad that’s not been part of the team for long. You’ll find that we have U-18 graduates under the reserve squad now and few reserve team players who Marco (Pezzaiuoli) has brought into the senior team, who he feels have good future potential,” Naushad Moosa began.

“For instance, players like Sivasakthi (Narayanan), Damait (Damaitphang Lyngdoh) and then Thoi (Singh). These are some good players you want to see now. There’s Bhutia (Namgyal) and Biswa (Darjee) as well. We want to give all these players an opportunity. It’s a big tournament for them and good for us to understand how they perform under pressure; in such a big competition. It also helps us as coaches alongside them to see where they stand as far as their performance is concerned,” he added.

On tournament’s changing landscape

Further, coach Moosa was asked about the difference between his time as a player in the Durand Cup as opposed to what it is at present. Additionally, he was questioned about the hype and whether there was enough currently. To this, he responded, “Of course, during our days. it was like a kind of festival to enjoy in the month of December, in Delhi. Durand Cup used to happen in Delhi all the time.

“We had three tournaments in December; the Chief Minister’s Cup, the DCM and Durand Cup. Gradually, the Chief Minister’s Cup disappeared and the DCM didn’t happen, but Durand was a big event. We had so many games those days. All the leading clubs would play the tournament along with the services’ teams. Those days even Santosh Trophy was a big event, where all teams came with their best players. But now, it’s gone down.

“I feel we as a country need to give more matches to the players. In the ISL as well, we get very few games; just 18-20. It is very important for the players, including the national team, when you play 40-50 games in a year. Within 18 games, I can’t give much playing time. Now that there’s Durand, I can give them (players) more playing time. Back then, we had the local league, other tournaments as well as the then national league. So, I guess we can plan and give more matches even now. It’s also very important that clubs take initiative and bring back these tournaments. Why not have more matches and tournaments even now?” Naushad Moosa elaborated.

Update on Erik Partaalu

The 49-year-old also shed light on club veteran Erik Partaalu, who has been training alone in Bellary of late. “Right now our senior team has a break after the AFC Cup. We’ll again meet in Bellary and that’s when he’ll be joining the team. 16 or 17 (September) the coach will be back and that’s when he’ll join our team,” he explained regarding the Australian’s status.

Difference between ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC

Lastly, the tactician was asked about the difference between his club (which heavily invested in the youth system) when compared to others such as ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City, who were financially much further ahead. He was questioned if the club sees a natural line of progression for their players in the next 1-2 seasons.

“Of course, it is going to happen. Now, I won’t just speak about the ‘B’ team, I will speak about the U-7s and U-8s also. If you see this season, we have more players from Bengaluru, but we initially struggled to have more Bengaluru players in our setup. For instance, the senior team, U-18s or the reserves where it was not happening,” he began.

“So, if you have a long-term programme, it’s possible. Now, if you see we have 8-10 players from the U-10s and 12s in the U-13s and 15s, the former with whom we’ve been working since the last two years. We have 20 kids from the U-18s and Reserves training with the senior team.

“Of course, you won’t see results in just 1-2 years, but it will soon be possible when we have a youth and experienced setup, where we can balance and play competitions. So, we are on the right track in terms of the amount of games and competitions they are getting. There are many players like that, for instance, Leon (Augustine) and Sivasakthi. So, yes, our management believes in the youth system and we want to stick to it,” Naushad Moosa concluded.

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