The tactician takes over as the head coach of the Blues and we take a closer look at what may be the path ahead.
Bengaluru FC will always be seen as the club that has set the standards for the way a football club should be run in India’s complex and at times bewildering football ecosystem. Any initiative from the club has always been with an eye on the future and never one for the short term.
What has been one of the pillars of their success is continuity. The hiring of inaugural coach Ashley Westwood was one that continues to pay dividends to this day. He brought on a regime of fitness and professionalism that was rare in the Indian game. It led to two I-League titles in three years and set the club on their way to the final of the AFC Cup.
The foundation laid by the former Manchester United man was built on by former Barcelona coach Albert Roca and now Roca’s work will get its rightful successor in the form of Carles Cuadrat.
Serving as Roca’s assistant coach for the last two years, Cuadrat has gained recognition as a set-piece expert during his time with his compatriot. He was the one who was seen on the touchline taking charge whenever the Blues had a free-kick or a corner. His absence when he returned home for a knee surgery was clearly seen as Bengaluru conceded two key goals in the final of the ISL from corners.
However, Roca’s return to Barcelona has seen the management believing that continuity is essential for a team that seeks to constantly better their previous season. While Cuadrat has a nearly settled team at his disposal, there are a few key areas that he would need to focus on:
1. Creating a succession plan for Sunil Chhetri
One of the biggest transfer bargains that the Blues pulled off was the signing of Sunil Chhetri in their inaugural season in Indian football. The talisman was made captain of the side and he has become an icon in the minds of the Bengaluru faithful. It has also led to him calling the city his second home and he has also bought an apartment in the heart of the city.
Earlier in the season, @CarlesCuadrat‘s stint at the club was cut short due to an injury. Now, with his Blues in the final of the @IndSuperLeague, he’s come home to see them over the line. #OursToWrite pic.twitter.com/I9DVx5hgI8
— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) March 15, 2018
Over the last two years, Chhetri’s emphasis on fitness has seen him become leaner, fitter and more hungry for success than ever before. So much so that the team has often relied on him to produce moments of inspiration to make the difference. This has been translated to the national level as well, where Chhetri is expected to be the man to decide the outcome of the game. While this is cause for fans to rally behind their captain, it also speaks of an issue that needs to be addressed soon.
The club has always believed in staying ahead of the curve and finding a plan to ease the burden off Chhetri is vital to that cause. The lively Udanta Singh is one who has been earmarked as a future Chhetri and it is important that he continues to be given the freedom to thrive under the astute tutelage of Cuadrat as well as the leadership and wisdom of Chhetri. The blockbuster signing of Chencho Gyeltshen, nicknamed the “Bhutanese Ronaldo” is another step towards the new era of Bengaluru FC.
Dependence on one player is always dangerous as Argentina found out to their cause at the World Cup. Therefore, it is key that Cuadrat finds a way to share Chhetri’s burden across the rest of the team.
2. Integration of more young talent into the first-team
One of the key aspects of Barcelona and Manchester United’s success has been the fact that there was a steady flow of young players from the academy into the first-team. Bengaluru FC have benefited from both these footballing temples in the form of Roca and Westwood.
The club has been a breeding ground for young players, giving their exposure to high-quality training methods and management. Udanta is one prime example of how the right training can lead to wonders in performance. Nishu Kumar has already blossomed into a marauding full-back, which is a blessing for both the club and national team.
The return of highly-rated full-back Gursimrat Gill and Sairuat Kima is one that speaks volumes of the direction that the club is intending to take. Their energy complements the vast experience the team already has and will also keep the more senior players on their toes.
3. Going one better in the ISL and AFC Cup
Roca’s stint with Bengaluru FC began with the Spaniard leading the Blues to the final of the AFC Cup. It was a historic first for an Indian club and it broke the ceiling for India to compete on the continental stage. The Blues nearly made it two in two finals, but for an inspired Istiklol FC in the penultimate stage.
A similar predicament awaited the Steelmen in their inaugural ISL season as they dominated the league phase, only to fall short against a supremely organized Chennaiyin FC in the final. While these were inspired moments for the fans, it also highlighted the need for Cuadrat to bring in his own substance into the squad to take that final step towards winning the grand prize and cementing their place in Indian and Asian football history.