The full back was one of the highlights of the Blues’ ISL title triumph.
Big names like Miku, Corominas, Sunil Chhetri or Edu Bedia were being looked upon as the main figures who could go on to make the difference in the crunch match between the two teams that finished first and second during the league stage of the tournament.
However, it was a Mumbai lad, Rahul Bheke, who rose above all the towering figures and nodded in a set-piece to win Bengaluru FC their maiden ISL title.
“It was such a defining moment, to score that goal in the final,” said Bheke, “I was really happy to score that goal. We had worked so hard on set-pieces with Coach (Carles) Cuadrat, and it was a real sense of achievement when we managed to pull off, what we had worked on during our training sessions.”
Bheke’s goal in the final helped Bengaluru clinch their maiden ISL title
The moment was made even sweeter for Bheke and his teammates at Bengaluru FC, as they have had to go through the disappointment of losing a closely-fought ISL final last season, a 2-3 defeat at the hands of Chennaiyin FC.
While last season’s final saw as many as five goals, this time around the grand finale was a much tighter affair, with Bheke’s goal being the deciding factor in extra time.
“This final was a very close one, unlike last time. When we went into the dressing room at half time, Coach told us to stick to the plan, and the chance will come,” said Bheke. “In the end, we did just that, and hit them with the set-piece.”
THE TRANSFORMATION OF BHEKE
Rahul Bheke has been around the professional footballing scene for some time now, but the last four years have seen the defender rise meteorically through the ranks.
Having started playing at St Augustine, Nerul, where he played the Subroto Cup before starting his professional career with Air India. Bheke then went on to play for Mumbai FC under the then Head Coach Khalid Jamil, who had kept Mumbai FC away from the relegation zone in the Hero I-League for six seasons, before winning the title with Aizawl FC.
“Khalid Jamil is a great coach. He has a great aptitude for tactics,” said Bheke. “The great thing about him is that he knows how to bring the best out of players with a low budget.
“He did that with Mumbai FC, and then with Aizawl as well. At Mumbai, he used to give a lot of Mumbai-based players a chance in the Hero I-League,” he said.
However, the full-back got his breakthrough in the big leagues in the 2015-16 season, when he was signed by Kolkata giants East Bengal.
“Getting an offer from East Bengal was like a dream-come-true back then. We had all watched East Bengal and Mohun Bagan play, and we all wanted to play for them at some point of our careers,” he said.
After spending a couple of loan spells at Kerala Blasters and FC Pune City during the ISL seasons, Rahul Bheke was finally snapped up by Bengaluru FC in the ISL 2017-18 drafts.
“Moving to Bengaluru changed my life. The professional way in which the club runs things makes it very advantageous for the players,” he said. “I learnt a lot under former Head Coach (Albert) Roca. He had coached in the FC Barcelona setup before, and his knowledge really helped us a lot, both individually and as a team.”
Bheke got another help from BFC skipper Sunil Chhetri, who constantly keeps motivating the youngsters, and giving them different tips on how to become a better footballer.