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Durand Cup

Durand Cup will be huge for Bengaluru United, says coach Richard Hood

Published at :September 4, 2021 at 9:06 PM
Modified at :December 13, 2023 at 1:01 PM
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(Courtesy : FCBU Media)

Ujyant Ramesh


The tactician was joined by defender Dharmaraj Ravanan as the duo expressed their thoughts on the season ahead.

FC Bengaluru United are set to take on the CRPF football team on September 6 in their first Durand Cup group stage fixture. This will be the club's debut in the tournament and they go in with great expectations. In March 2021, Richard Hood and his boys won the BDFA Super Division League with a staggering 31 points overall.

Since then, they have also revamped their squad with five young players as well as veterans such as Dharmaraj Ravanan. Ravanan is a former I-League champion with Churchill Brothers and a two-time Durand Cup winner. Therefore, this combination of youth and experience, along with certain overhauls have set the club's hopes high. How far they venture in this tournament will be a testament to their qualities.

Ahead of their opening match, head coach Richard Hood and defender Dharmaraj Ravanan addressed the media in a virtual press conference.

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On the opponents in the group stage

Richard Hood was asked about his confidence on facing the Indian Air Force, CRPF and Mohammedan SC in Group A. "We are not reading in too much into the groups. Since day one, we are developing this tournament mentality to get maximum points. Regardless of who's in front, we are aiming for nine points at the end of the group stage," he began.

"The armed forces teams (CRPF and Indian Air Force) train throughout the year. They don't really have an off-season as such. They have cohesion because their starting XI doesn't change for three-four years. However, we've had squad changes over the years; particularly from 2019 to now," he continued.

"BDFA was an opportunity to see where we were and we've addressed issues by bringing in new players and making changes. Based on our assessment, Mohammedan SC is doing really well in the local leagues. We have some idea of CRPF while the Air Force come in as champions of Delhi. By no means are these teams small in reputation in their own realms. We are looking forward to exposure in such tough tournaments," Hood added.

Importance of the Durand Cup

Based on the Indian football calendar and FCBU's preparations, Richard Hood was questioned on the Durand Cup's importance and impact on his club.

"It's hard to emphasize how important this is. After eight weeks, everybody is coming in with a lot of motivation. It is a very different squad now. We have experienced players who have stepped up and played at this level. Last year, we went into the I-League Qualifiers without competitive exposure. We estimated our squad only based on our own preparation and not competition," he responded.

"We couldn't really understand ourselves based on our strengths and limitations and build on that. Just to see exactly where we are, our versatility on the bench and more importantly the winning intent we've tried to build from the time we finished up in Kolkata last year. Nobody is here to drop points. We've brought in players with great character both on and off the pitch. To put that to test, Durand will be huge for us. Hence, it's really important for us," the tactician explained.

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Ravanan on the decision to play for FC Bengaluru United

Dharmaraj Ravanan was quizzed regarding his choice to play for FCBU after having played for ISL teams and title-winning I-League clubs. "For me, it was an easy decision to join FCBU," he quipped.

"In the last four seasons, I've been playing in the I-League. I'm playing only four months in a season and I sit at home for eight months. Hence, when the offer came, I decided to join. More than that, I knew coach Richard Hood before. I spoke to them and they explained their ideas and what they wanted to achieve. So it was an easy decision," he answered.

Speaking on if it was a concern to play in a lower league compared to before, Ravanan revealed it was an opportunity to him that he did not want to miss.

"I personally think it's an opportunity. I want to play more matches. I'm already 34 and I have only a few more years to play. I don't want to miss this opportunity. I'm learning, enjoying, happy and comfortable with this club. I get a few more extra months in my playing career. My objective is to qualify for the league and if we do, I will continue with FCBU," he stated.

On the number of games

The 34-year-old defender was also asked for his opinion on the limited number of games he was playing. "Compared to last year, the AIFF is trying. They've increased the number of teams from 11-13. Gradually, they're increasing the teams," he opined.

"It is difficult to sit at home for eight months a year. Earlier, all the I-League and top clubs played the Durand Cup, IFA Shield and the Federation Cup. We would only get a month off but now there's a big gap, But it will slowly change. With two leagues taking place simultaneously and the introduction of promotion and relegation in the future, the season will be longer," he added.

FC Bengaluru United's squad composition

The club has gone through major changes this year with the introduction of five new youth players and a few seasoned players. Head coach Richard Hood shed some light on the same.

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"We had addressed what had gone wrong in the previous qualifiers. Aside from regulations due to the pandemic and other general restrictions, we wanted to bring in certain qualities to the side. With foreigners, one aspect that I had seen was with that teams that go up with a lone foreigner, the striker gets mucked out easily. All the defensive attention goes to him and those teams tend to have higher Indian scorers. So creating a partnership up front was a big thing for us," he opined.

"This is why guys like Rava (Dharmaraj Ravanan), Kingshuk (Debnath) and James (Thokchom James Singh) have come up to balance it with experience and you at the bottom half of the pitch. We are leaning heavily on an all Indian back four. Apart from that, we wanted to bring in a lot more pace to the wide areas. We looked in the market and spoke to agents for that, We have a lot more technical abilities at the centre with boys from Goa coming in. Overall, we want to play in a certain way with ball dominance and aggression in defence which require leadership and efforts," he quipped.

"We were looking for players with such intent and I think we have them looking at the names we have right now. I am looking forward to building a season with them," Hood expressed.

Possibilities of experimentation in the Durand Cup

The tactician also shared his thoughts when asked about potential experimentation in the upcoming tournament. With the key focus being on the I-League qualifiers, he addressed this very question.

"We've done enough of experimentation and rotations in the pre-season. Durand is absolutely no platform for us to experiment. Pressure is on us to figure out our best XI. We'll share the expectations with players as well that we need three points and have to get the job done. Our only experimentation might be altering the game plan a bit. There are 11 guys on the pitch and they'll be our best XI. In terms of 'give this guy some playing time', there will be none," Richard Hood emphasized.

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Dharmaraj Ravanan's role on and off the pitch

"This year, the club has signed few experienced players. I think this experience will also help me make the right decisions. Of course, off the pitch, I'll try to talk to the young players, give them my inputs and share my experience. I would like to guide them as best as I can," he remarked, when posed a question on how his experience would benefit the squad.

On the challenge of a new squad adapting with each other

Hood was also asked about his signings and how exactly they would gel with each other considering such major changes; both in terms of numbers and probable playstyle.

"Getting shared experience in an important competition is the fastest way to share cohesion. We have about 270 minutes now in Kolkata. Just sharing the pressure, walking out together, shaking hands, reading your name in the starting lineup, seeing through 90 minutes and all of this cannot be created in pre-season. You can't have this seriousness without having the need to keep your story in the tournament alive. Real competition is where people adapt," he opined.

"There seems to be a good amount of trust and respect between the players to see this mission of getting to the qualifiers right. As far as the coaching side of things goes, we have done everything we could to put a strong pre-season. We'll see exactly where things are on Monday and the following games after that," he stated.

Thoughts on the cramped season and I-League qualifiers

Richard Hood was asked about concerns regarding the number of fixtures and whether he perceived it as a concern or not.

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"We have decent numbers. We are looking at 25 fit faces. Compared to last year, we have a lot of squad depth and like for like replacement. There's absolutely no doubt or drop in confidence that the person that we bring in to replace another will give us less of a performance. In those terms, the squad is set to see through congested fixtures," he responded.

"It comes down to game management. Within the game, how quickly do we get the lead and how much energy we expend once we secure the lead; all of this counts. Once you get into the knockouts, there's no compromise in terms of getting those three points. Nobody wants to get into penalty shootouts as it takes a mental toll. Even if we do, this is where our experienced players come in.

"In terms of managing the calendar, we have one day on and another off. FIFA's five substitutions rule will help us manage our energy levels. Coming into this tournament, we should get good conditioning. We have to make sure we are there till the final playing whistle. It's on us to manage every competitive game that we get," Hood concluded.

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