The former Indian Super League champions have attained great success within a short span in the top tier.
Founded in 2013, Bengaluru FC established themselves as one of the most dominant sides and assumed the stature of a ‘big club’ within few years of their inception. Stride after stride, the club only went on to gather honours to add to their trophy cabinet. A giant leap in 2016 saw the Blues scripting history, becoming the first Indian side to make it to the finals of the AFC Cup, which they unfortunately lost by a very small margin.
The Blues then made the jump to the Indian Super League in 2017 and steamrolled their way to the top of the table. A similar tale followed next season and they emerged victorious in a feisty 120-minute final against FC Goa. Their third season in the ISL, however, was considered to be a poor outing despite a third place finish and a semi-final exit at the hands of eventual champions ATK.
Keeping in mind the performances, here’s an XI of the best to have donned the Blue jersey in their short spell in the ISL.
Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Gurpreet joined the Blues in 2017 and has performed exceptionally well for the side over three seasons. The shotstopper is the only Indian to have ever appeared in the UEFA Europa League and fancied a move to Bengaluru. Sandhu has gone on to put forth praiseworthy performances and has been a formidable figure in the side.
After missing out on the Golden Glove in the first season, he went on to perform brilliantly in the next two seasons to win the award twice. Sandhu holds the record for most number of clean sheets as well, having amassed a total of 11 in the 2019-20 edition of the ISL.
Right-Back: Harmanjot Khabra
A proper team player. While most players wearing the number ’10’ can be seen performing flashy step-overs and getting into the box, Khabra stands to be an exception. Usually deployed on the defensive half of the field, Khabra can switch positions between defensive midfield and right-back, yet seemingly excel at both. His versatility is unmatched and there is no question of his commitment.
Often seen as a physically tough opponent, Khabra is a great reader of the game and is quick to spot an attack and stop the opposition in their tracks. He has made 52 appearances for the Blues and has four assists over the course of three seasons in the ISL. The stats however don’t do justice to his contribution to the team’s performance.
Centre-Back: Rahul Bheke
Bheke was signed while the Blues made their entry into the ISL and has been one of the most improved players. Another example of versatility in the squad, Bheke can play across various positions in the defence. Although often played at right-back, Bheke performs at the same level and composure while playing in the central position.
The defender made his way into the national team after exemplary performances with the Blues and is now an integral part of the Blue Tigers’ defence. A reliable ball-playing defender, Bheke offers great options in attack as well. The Mumbai-born defender had a stellar 2018-19 season, assisting once and scoring thrice including the header that secured the Blues their maiden ISL title.
Easily one of the best defenders in the ISL, Juanan has been rock solid in the Bengaluru FC defence. The Spaniard rarely has a bad day at office and leads the defence with great example. Juanan has been a pillar for the Blues over three seasons in the ISL and is one of the most consistent performers in the league.
His presence in the defence complements the quality the Blues have in attack. Juanan has played 57 matches for the Blues and boasts of an impressive passing accuracy of 81.59%. The Spaniard’s ability with the ball and composure in tight situations is a fine quality that has benefited the Blues.
Left-Back: Nishu Kumar
The 22-year-old left back has risen through the ranks at Bengaluru FC. From a teenager working hard to get some playing time to being one of the most sought-after players, the youngster has come a long way. Nishu has been one of the most promising and consistent players at the club.
Nishu’s pace and strength is a great attribute for a player of his stature and his timing in tackles just seems to get better with time. Nishu Kumar is another player who made his way to the national team with his fine displays for the club. He made 45 appearances for the club and has been one of the most promising players in the side in recent times. The 22-year-old recently bid farewell to the club and his departure will surely leave a void in the Blues’ defence.
Central Midfielder: Erik Paartalu
The Aussie midfielder is an integral part of the side and especially an important factor in Cuadrat’s set-piece routines. His tall structure is put to great use in attacking as well as defensive set-pieces and his abilities in the centre of the pitch are extraordinary. In 49 matches, Paartalu has scored seven goals and seven assists.
His contribution in the attack makes him an asset to have in the side. Paartalu has travelled the world with the ball at his feet and his experience brings a lot to his game with the Blues.
Central Midfielder: Dimas Delgado
One of the most important players in the Blues’ dressing room, Dimas keeps the engine running. Even at 36, the Spaniard seems to be at the peak of his fitness level and only gets better with each passing year. The midfielder is often seen running the show in the middle of the pitch and is at the heart of every attacking move that the Blues make.
Dimas Delgado has recorded 13 assists over three seasons and has found the back of the net thrice. He is known as a dead-ball expert and is the Blues’ designated set-piece taker – a routine they ever so often excel in.
Central Attacking-Midfielder: Xisco Hernandez
Although the Spaniard lasted just one season at the club, he played a key role in the side that went on to lift the trophy. Bengaluru FC head coach Carles Cuadrat regretted the Blues’ decision to let go of the Spaniard for the 2019-20 ISL.
In his only season at the club, the Spaniard registered five assists and scored one goal. He could shift between playing as a winger and as a playmaker – a particular type that the Blues lacked last season.
Right Winger: Udanta Singh
The ridiculously fast winger had a forgetful previous season and made the news for all the wrong reasons. But, his performances in the past are only an example of what is to come in future as he prepares to rise from the fall. In his three seasons with the club, Udanta has recorded 10 assists and has scored seven times.
Despite a poor campaign, he remains to be one of the most promising wingers at the club and country and will be looking to get himself back on track in the coming seasons.
Left Winger: Sunil Chhetri
Sunil Chhetri will forever cement this position on any team’s all-time XI list. The skipper seems to extend his stay in the footballing world as he shuts the naysayers with his world-class performances in each game.
Chhetri has scored 32 goals for the Blues and has notched up five assists too. He has been the top scorer among Indians for three seasons now and seems to be greedy for more in all the right sense.
The Venezuelan had a massive impact on the Blues when the side made their entry into the ISL. He looked tailored to suit the team and was outstanding in his two seasons at the club. The former Bengaluru FC striker bagged 20 goals and four assists during his two-year stint with the club and was vital during the title-winning season, despite missing out on a few games due to injury. The club’s decision to part ways with the striker had a massive impact and led to a goal drought which affected the club’s performances severely.
Head Coach: Carles Cuadrat
The Spaniard narrowly pips out Albert Roca, from whom he took over the reigns at the club. Cuadrat was sure to shrug off the ‘Roca’s assistant’ tag and was keen on making a mark for himself. He managed to do it in style as the Blues put up another dominant performance in the ISL and this time topped it by winning the title. Bengaluru FC are the only club to have topped the league stage and also win the final in the Indian Super League. Cuadrat’s crisis management worked well for the Blues after Miku and Xisco Hernandez’s departures, as his defensive tactics helped sail the ship despite lack of goals up-front.
In just his first assignment as head coach of a club, Carles Cuadrat won the title and finished third in the following season – with a comparatively weaker side. Thus, it wouldn’t seem fair to ridicule the Spaniard based on the performance of the recently concluded season. Moreover, he holds the record for the longest unbeaten run and winning streak in the ISL and will surely look to bounce back and get his hands on the title once again in the coming seasons.