The Blues will look to reorganize and redeem themselves this season.

Bengaluru FC kickoff their 2021-22 Indian Super League campaign on 20 November against NorthEast United. This will be their fifth season in India’s top-tier football league. Over the years, they’ve earned the status of a “super club”; winning several trophies and garnering praise for their consistent campaigns. However, last season was a forgetful one, when they finished seventh — the lowest in their history. This time though, the picture seems different, with a major squad overhauls and a new manager; 53-year-old Marco Pezzaiuoli at the helm.

Since these changes, Bengaluru FC have shown signs of resilience — as seen in the AFC Cup, Durand Cup as well as the ongoing pre-season friendlies. Although they were eventually knocked out of the Asia, they ended the campaign with a whopping 6-2 victory against Maziya S&RC. Subsequently, they reached the Durand Cup’s semi-finals under assistant coach Naushad Moosa; who led a relatively young side throughout. Most recently though, they beat Jamshedpur FC and Chennaiyin FC in pre-season friendlies a few days ago, after losing to the same sides last month.

As a result, glimpses of change have been noticed so far. However, with other clubs going through similar processes, newer players in the squad and other factors such as league regulation changes, it’s only a matter of time before we see how things play out.

Addressing all of this, the team’s head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli spoke at a virtual media interaction on Wednesday:

On ongoing preparations

First up, Marco Pezzaiuoli spoke about the Blues’ preparations for the competition. “First of all, I think we’re prepared well. In the case of the bubble, I don’t think it’s easy — for everybody. The team has been in preparation for two months. We started in Bellary and we (the team) were divided; one in the Durand Cup and some in the national team. Now, it’s the first week that we’re together,” he began.

“We had a little bit (some) cases of sickness in the team. But, as a team, we played two games this week against Jamshedpur FC and Chennaiyin FC. I think we are prepared well. It takes some time, but we want to be better than the last season. What’s important for me is to not only be on a certain range (level), but to also show players and people that we want to play a different kind of football. It takes time. We will see a BFC team that wants to reach the playoffs. This is our wish and we’re trying to train hard for this,” he added.

On the four foreigners’ rule

This season, the ISL will see a cap on foreign players as per the Asian Football Confederation’s club competition regulations. Essentially, this means a maximum of four foreign players and a minimum of seven Indian players on the pitch at any given time. There has been constant speculation as to its impact on clubs in the league.

When asked about this and the responsibility it would put on Indian players, the tactician expressed, “When you want to develop your own country, I think it’s a good idea by the federation to reduce foreign players. Still, foreign players too are important to develop young players.

“That’s why we went to the Durand Cup with our youngsters; to develop young players and take the next step. It’s only possible when you play games. We don’t have the reserve league and 20 games in a season are not enough. We have 5-6 months holiday (off-season) or (for) preparations only — you cannot develop players (this way). That’s why we do this and it’s a good mixture of foreign players and young and experienced players in BFC. I think this will help us have a better season than the last two,” said Marco Pezzaiuoli.

Integration of youth and experience

Next up, Pezzaiuoli was asked about the lack of experience and the reliance on foreign players for experience (apart from veteran Indians).

He responded, “As I said, we weren’t together as much as we wanted and the national team players had almost no pre-season with us. For example, Suresh (Wangjam); he only came now and he played around five days in our two months of pre-season. It’s not really helping to come together and that’s why it’s taking a longer time. But, I think the AFC Cup helped us a lot right from the team from Nepal (Tribhuwan Army) in May to the top tier Maldivian team at the end (Maziya S&RC).”

Talking about pre-season, he further added, “We increase our level step-by-step every time and I think we’ll be the same in the season. We need games. We have friendly games; 3-4, but it’s not enough. We usually have 10 friendly games before starting the season. To come on the level of 80-90% — which we don’t have right now, we’ll aim for the games (to achieve the same). That’s the system we need to embrace and of course, with results.

“The important part as a club and a coach is to give inexperienced players a chance to develop. However, it’s a new step, of course. We lost Dimas (Delgado), Erik (Paartalu) and Juanan — the fundamentals of the BFC team. So, it’s now a team and I think we have quality young players. I need to put them inside (fit them into the squad) and get them experience. When (if) they adapt fast, they can go (follow) the steps of experienced players.”

Regarding schedule

Further, the 53-year-old spoke about India’s football calendar and fixtures of the upcoming ISL season. He expressed, “Of course, there needs to be a change. When you’re aiming for the next step — the national team, there needs to be change in the league system. There should be more games for youth players. When you have only 20 games in a year and you have 5-6 months of break, we have a lot of preparation which is also not easy because you need to start and restart again and again. (Basically), games, games and games (a lot more matches) are important — to make right and wrong decisions and to learn from the wrong ones.

“That’s why I also suggest the league to think of new things. The reserve team who are with the first-team have no games at all. I know many supporters weren’t happy with what we did at the Durand Cup — we sent a mix of young and first-team players. But, that’s our philosophy at BFC to make the next step for young players. That must be (the case) in the total (all over) India and not only BFC because we want to have India in the Asian Cup and also the World Cup, in the future.”

On bringing experience from other countries

The tactician then responded to a question on his experience from managing clubs in other countries along with highlighting the differences amongst them.

Marco Pezzaiuoli stated, “When you go to a different country you have to adapt as a coach. You cannot do the same thing in every country. You need to respect and adapt to the culture, When I coached in Korea, it was the beginning of a higher level. They had success in the 2002 World Cup and it was much easier for me as a coach, as I had a high level of football players.

“But (generally), I don’t think there’s much difference. Of course, the quality is a bit different, but not the profession. When you compare Chinese players with Indian players, I think the Indian players are more professional. I think Indian players are more open in conversation and are different. But, (for instance), the Japanese and Koreans do what you tell them to do — they are very strict. So, I think Indian players are more open that way.”

Elaborating on Indian football traits, he further stated, “I think till the U-8, U-11s, and so on we are at high levels as well. But, now we just need to get traction. Korea did this after the World Cup by bringing in Dutch and Spanish philosophy and turning their players into head coaches. India has this already, not just in football but the culture is really open-minded. I think this is an advantage for the future.”

Thoughts on comparing Indian and European football

Adding on to the same, the German also shared a really interesting insight about the flaws of comparing Indian and European football.

He opined, “You shouldn’t compare Indian football with European football. Journalists as well should report much more positively on India and not just compare with Italy, Spain and so on. The experience of the league (ISL) is very short. The view of journalists in India needs to be very different from journalists in England. When an English journalist analyzes a player who has 10 years of high experience, you cannot compare this to Indian players. The glass is either half empty or half full and I see it positively because we are still in the development time of Indian football.”

Overall approach this season

After talking about his experience as a coach, Marco Pezzaiuoli then came back to the Blues’ attack. In other words, he spoke about the side’s largely unchanged front three in Cleiton Silva, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh and addressed how he was looking at integrating them with a changed midfield and defensive line.

“In the end, for coaches, it’s not important as to who scores goals. It’s just important that we score goals — it doesn’t matter who and it doesn’t only have to be strikers. In modern football, strikers also have to play defence and it’s not like 30 years back, when the No. 9 stood forward and all other players defended. Last season, we conceded a lot of goals. In the end, I don’t care who scores goals. Every player has rules defensive, offensive and position-wise,” he answered.

He added, “We have a lot more players in the offensive position than just Sunil, Cleiton and Udanta. We have Siva (Sivasakthi Narayanan), Leon (Augustine), Bhutia (Namgyal Bhutia) and offensive midfield players like Jayesh (Rane), who can score goals as we saw in the AFC Cup and pre-season. In the end, both scoring goals and not getting (conceding) goals is important. This is about teamwork;” thereby giving some insights about his attitude towards the versatility and depth of players currently available for his side.

Message to fans

Lastly, after emphasizing the struggles of playing in the COVID bubble, Marco Pezzaiuoli ended the interaction with his thoughts and messages on missing out on fans, once again.

“I hope they support us. They are very important, especially for BFC. We’ve got a great stadium, a great supporter base. Next season, maybe we are all together in one stadium chanting and dreaming about the next step which is our wish. Don’t be negative even when some results are not good as that does not help. In the end, we are developing players and trying to be better than last year. We give our 100% to win games and when supporters see this, we both will be in the right way,” he concluded.

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