The defending champions go into the new campaign on the back of a historic run to the AFC Cup Final…
Last season’s performance: Champions
The Steelmen had a historic season as they clinched their 2nd I-League title by beating Salgaocar at home. However, it marked a change of guard as Albert Roca took over the well-oiled Ashley Westwood machine and used his immense acumen to guide the Garden City club to the AFC Cup Final, the first ever for an Indian club. Despite losing out narrowly to Iraq’s Air Force Club, it gave new hope to Indian clubs that doing the right things the right way can see continued success at a continental level.
Bengaluru FC roped in a gem of a coach in Albert Roca to ensure that the initial foundation set up by outgoing coach Ashley Westwood was not disturbed. The former Barcelona assistant coach has added his own idea of possession football to an already formidable Bengaluru FC team in addition to retaining a focus on promoting young players. After all, this was a man who had worked in close quarters with a young Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta as they rose to become the focal points of the Barcelona juggernaut.
In 2003, he joined Frank Rijkaard’s coaching staff at Barcelona and had five glorious years with the Catalans which saw them win the 2006 Champions League in addition to multiple La Liga titles. He went on to work with the Dutchman during his stints at Galatasaray and the Saudi Arabian national team. Roca took up a job as the head coach of the El Salvador national side in 2014 and stayed there for two years before changing base to India.
Bengaluru FC have prided themselves in retaining a strong Indian core supplemented by an experienced foreign contingent. Ashley Westwood groomed talents like Nishu Kumar, Udanta Singh and Shankar Sampingiraj during his time with the Steelmen.
Transfers In: The Garden City club have continued their policy of bringing some of the best Indian talent to the city by signing former East Bengal utility man Harmanjot Khabra. The 28-year old is a versatile player who can play both in defence, central and wide midfield areas which can prove to be an asset to Roca’s system. Former Churchill Brothers and Dempo man Lenny Rodrigues has also been roped in to add that extra bite in midfield alongside Cameron Watson. The Steelmen will also have the services of FC Goa winger Mandar Rao Desai, who has flourished into one of India’s best wingers under the watchful eye of Brazil legend Zico. The 24-year old can ease the burden on Sunil Chhetri who isn’t getting younger at the age of 32.
Roca has also brought in Honduras striker Roby Norales who the Spaniard knew from his days in charge of the El Salvador national side. The striker can add valuable international experience in addition to being among the goals and share the burden of scoring from the likes of Chhetri and CK Vineeth.
Transfers out: Bengaluru FC bid farewell to their 37-year old midfielder Alvaro Rubio as the Spaniard came to the end of his eventful 4-month loan spell where he helped the club reach their first ever AFC Cup Final.
Formation and Tactics
Roca has preferred to continue to use Westwood’s standard 4-2-3-1 formation which sees the team retaining defensive stability whilst also posing a potent attacking threat. The additions of Lenny Rodrigues and Norales will add greater dynamism to an already formidable front line. The onus to create and score however will still hinge on the partnership between Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Roca has plenty of options on the roster when he needs to rotate the squad in the form of Daniel Lalhlimpuia, Udanta Singh, Alwyn George and Mandar Rao Desai.
Roca has not been afraid to use a 3-4-3 system when needed. This was seen in the AFC Cup semi-final second leg against Johor when the Spaniard switched systems when they were chasing the game. Rodrigues’ presence will be even more vital as the midfielder has the ability to drop back to add a 3rd body to the defence as Nishu and Khabra/Rino Anto push forward to add much needed width to the team.
Man to Watch: Sunil Chhetri
Albert Roca will have a full I-League season to fine-tune this team to his liking at a greater level. He has made some astute signings which also sees the club competing against Al-Wehdat in the preliminary round of the AFC Champions League. While the AFC Cup run has given the club greater confidence in the continental arena, Roca will no doubt have a greater focus towards the I-League title.