The Blues defeat in the AFC Cup Final should prove a steppingstone to bigger and better things for both the club and Indian football…
Three years. In the context of a football club, three years might just be a passage of a successful run, ask Barcelona, or a period of transition, ask Manchester United. Seldom has the world, in history, seen remarkable stories of a team making it big in three years, even when they’ve been born decades ago.
Bengaluru FC, an Indian club, was born in 2013 when the I-League invited bids for two new corporate teams. None in the country knew that this team would be ruling their hearts, in just a span of three years. With sound management and professionalism, the JSW Group has created one of India’s best footballing legacies, Bengaluru FC being the protagonist.
BFC can boast of the best systems and growing eco-system in their setup. The club has ensured foreign professionals, who understand the job well, are given the designation of the coach/manager. In Ashley Westwood, they got someone young and dynamic, someone who could connect well with his professional players and could also produce a perfect gameplan on the pitch.
The story began way back. Slowly and steadily, Westwood got the Indian contingent he wanted. He got his men, the ones he liked. Impressively, his selections weren’t based on reputation, but on the willingness of the player to give his all on the pitch. Such dedication has transformed Bengaluru FC into a well-oiled machine, a team which already has unparalleled records in Indian football history.
No team has won the National League in its debut season and Bengaluru FC changed that in 2013. Cruising to a comfortable victory, the team announced itself onto the big stage. The run was dominating and a new style of play was shown to Indian audiences.
After the club won the league in their first year of existence, they developed a belief in its system, setup and style of play. With that, the transformation from India’s top team to a team which fights in Asia began. The club knew that they would have to nurture more local talent to cover their bases well and thus, various other key players like Amrinder Singh and Alwyn George were signed.
Westwood took the team to the Round of 16 of the AFC Cup in 2015-16, which gave the club a new belief that they belonged on the bigger stage. Playing a possession-based game, the team looked bereft of ideas without the ball against foreign opponents on some occasions. Winning two league titles and one Federation Cup in three years was enough for both the club and its coach, who parted ways by mutual consent.
In came Albert Roca, FC Barcelona’s former assistant coach. The strict disciplinarian had plied his trade as a defender in his playing days and believed in the ‘Strikers win you matches, Defenders win you tournaments’ way of football. The coach instilled discipline and shape into the team and made sure they had enough fighting spirit in them to chase lost causes, something inspiringly embodied by club captain Sunil Chhetri.
Coming off a Round of 16 appearance last season, Bengaluru FC had the urge to do better. Roca had his eyes set on the journey and studied all his opponents well. His tactics were, more often than not, spot on. Coming into the Final, the coach decided to play to the team’s strength, just tinkering a little with the game-play. He needed his players to press the opposition hard, with no space in the midfield to function. John Johnson and Juanan Antonio were unbreakable for most of the game and it was one moment of magic, which sealed the game for their opponents
The team had played out of their skins to reach the Final, becoming the first Indian team in history to reach the showpiece of a major continental club competition. The game was evenly contested till the goal happened and broke the psychological strength of the players. They seemed to be cursing their luck, and as we all know, lost.
However, the defeat should mark a mere signpost in what has already been a remarkable journey for the Blues. it’s just a new beginning, a new page of a new, brighter book. Bengaluru FC, in just three years, have won the National League twice, the Federation Cup once and reached the Final of AFC Cup! That’s an achievement, as well as a lesson for the rest of Indian football. With proper management, belief, will and hard-work, Indian football belongs at the biggest of stages.
Bengaluru will play the qualifying stages of AFC Champions League next season, where all the major clubs from Japan, China, UAE and Australia feature. That’s some achievement for a club, which was unknown to the world in 2014. Barcelona and former Atletico Madrid superstar Arda Turan wished them the best before Saturday night’s game, which proves that their story has made the world sit up and take notice.
For the club’s fans, this shouldn’t be a loss, it should be a lesson. A lesson that the team needs to attack a bit more, needs to show a bit more courage in their abilities and pride in their journey to the Final. Players like Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh will inspire youngsters to follow in their footsteps and as such, this moment should be seen as a steppingstone to bigger and better things.
Football in India is growing like never before and it needs the support of the common people. It needs an audience to survive, their love to believe and trust to thrive. With the advent and growth of the Indian Super League, the footballing folklore looks set towards ascendancy. This story should not just go into the history books as one of, ‘so near, yet so far’, but should inspire others to tread the same path and outshine the success of The Blues. Somewhere, behind everything, the footballing gods have finally been blessing India.
Bengaluru’s exploits on the continent are also a victory. A victory of just what a vision and ambition can achieve. It is a feat that everyone associated with the club must take pride in, but also one that they are doubtless motivated to surpass.
Editorial by Punit Tripathi Khel Now Correspondent from Delhi – A sports enthusiast. Freelance writer on football and cricket. A die-hard Manchester United follower. You can Follow him on twitter .