Bengaluru FC’s possession based football paves the way for the rest of Indian football to follow

Last week I wrote about how Bengaluru FC’s fans are creating an atmosphere that is quite rare in Indian football, this week’s post talks more about their on-field play.

Bengaluru FC have a splendid YouTube channel, run by their media head Kunal Majgaonkar. Bengaluru FC fans can regularly view highlights of recent matches, exclusive interviews etc, you know the drill. It’s a well run channel, and a rare one in Indian football with not many clubs owning such a medium for fans to interact.

I often swing by to re-watch some of the games, but the latest video that was uploaded on the channel couldn’t have had better timing. I was just preparing a piece on Bengaluru FC’s possession based game and what it means for Indian football and this video came along, adding credibility to this piece. You can see the video below.

We see periods of the match against United SC where Bengaluru FC strung 30-40 passes consecutively without losing possession. Now this is something that sides like Bayern Munich and Barcelona do on a weekly basis leaving viewers accustomed to the usual. But many European sides, owing to the pace of the game in the continent, fail to retain possession throughout the game. Certainly such a feature is absent in Indian football, where sides just play the old ‘hoof ball’ game, one of the primary reasons why football fans in India find Indian football boring; it’s with good reason.

But what Bengaluru FC displayed down below was immensely gratifying. We talk about improving grassroots football, promoting football camps, infrastructural developments, increasing sponsorship etc, but one factor we always overlook when talking about football in India is the football itself, everything else is secondary.

What the game needs in the country is a clear identity, aesthetic football, football which requires confidence & technique. Ashley Westwood, in less than one season, is certainly changing the game in the country. He has begun to implement his own identity on the club, to a point where the boys in blue are confident with the ball at their feet, aren’t rushed into rash decisions, calm and composed, stringing passes along together and overall realising the importance of keeping the ball as opposed to pumping it upfield.

It’s a drastic improvement to the game as we know it in the country, and sets an example for not only other clubs to follow, but the national team as well. To be fair to Indian national team coach, Wim Koevermars, this is exactly what he is trying to do with the side. It’s a period of transition with the football being played changing. It’s a problem because not too many other clubs keep possession in this manner, and when you’re told to do it for the national team, it’s a big step up and a step in a different direction. Players at clubs don’t learn to keep possession, but it’s the football that is trying to be implemented at the national team. See the problem there?

It’s due to this factor that some of the results under Koevermars haven’t been favourable, his footballing idea and philosophy is correct but it’s implementation is lacking. One fears that if poor results persist, then the best footballing philosophy to have been implemented in Indian football won’t be realised and Wim could lose his job. It’s unfortunate because football like this isn’t implemented overnight.

Having said that, Ashley Westwood and Bengaluru FC have implemented a possession based game in less than a season. And they have the results to show for it. The South Indian side are threatening with the ball, and it’s no surprise that they’re leading the charge at the top of Indian football. Barring a complete meltdown, one has to expect them to go on and claim their maiden I-League title. Given the type of football played, a meltdown is unlikely, but you never know in football. Fingers crossed.

It has to be said here though, that despite this being a possession based game, critics will be quick to point out that it’s no where in the mould of the top European sides. Bengaluru FC’s possession based game is rather defensive, with not much seen in the attacking third. But again, it’s a footballing style that’ll take ages to be imprinted on any side. The idea is right, the execution is satisfactory, the long term implementation will take some time. Backward passes, though not as aesthetically pleasing, are crucial for any tiki-taka and total football style as this provides a safe outlet for the site thus allowing the retention of possession. As I said, they’re getting the idea right. They’re also willing to spread the ball wide and stretch play, rather than play into the congestion.

Credit also has to be given to Bengaluru FC’s midfield playmaker, John Menyongar. The 33-year-old Liberian is crucial to Bengaluru FC’s side, and certainly this possession based football game. He provides that much needed balance in Bengaluru FC’s side and the youngsters in the team can only learn from the experienced midfield man. As both an Indian, and a Bengaluru FC fan, I’d love to see a youngster come in to the side and play the game currently being played by John Menyongar.

A lot of food for thought for Indian football fans; I leave you with the video I mentioned at the start of this piece. Take a moment and let it sink in that this type of football was on display in Indian domestic football. Take a moment to think what wonders it can do if it’s implemented throughout the country, at all levels.

Co-founder and Chief Editor here. Obsessed with tactics. Keen follower of young players. Creator of #TalentRadar. Appeared in A Football Report's list of "Best in Football Writing 2012".
  • jack

    Even though I am a fan of the possession based game, I still only believe that Barcelona can do it properly. Everton and Swansea have tried to replicate this style and haven’t had the same effects (Obviously due to very different players).

    But Bengaluru just seem to keep the ball for the sake of keeping it and don’t really make much penetration behind the opponents back line. I have watched minimal highlights of the team and don’t follow them so I may be wrong, but to have the ball is to be in control of play and should be used to tire opponents then attack which is not going to happen much if your going from attacking positions straight back to the central defence just to maintain possession. Losing the ball up top then instant pressure can lead to goals too if used properly.

    However though they are splendid to watch and I hope then gain more media attention that they do deserve!

    • samiOOTB

      You’re correct with your analysis of Bengaluru’s style of possession, I’ve subtly mentioned it in the piece as well. It’s defensive possession but it’s possession nevertheless, something which is extremely rare in Indian football. The style in the country is still very backward. The style Barca plays takes years to set in.

      We have to realise that Bengaluru FC was just formed this season, an entire team started from scratch, playing together for the first time, under a new coach, and to be able to do that within one season is remarkable. Given it has hardly (or never) ever done before.

      • Abhijeet Dey

        I have enjoyed reading this article. Thank you very much. Bengaluru FC under the guidance of Ashley Westwood and good financial support from JSW are changing the face of Indian football. The coach has also given an interview about his experience in India which is very interesting to read.
        Here is the link: http://www.football365.com/f365-features/9186068/British-Coaches-Abroad-Ashley-Westwood

        As mentioned by @disqus_cexvW062gB:disqus I was wondering whether Bengaluru FC should play matches against top european teams so as to refine their skills as per european style of play? The thing is Bengaluru FC need to think big (Barca, Manchester United etc) if they have to beat top arab teams in future AFC cup matches? I know it will take time but its worth a shot.

        • samiOOTB

          I read that interview too. Very informative. Shows how much work Westwood has done off the field as well.

          And I agree, BFC need to be prepared for potential continental matches, Champions League or AFC Cup. See how Pune are struggling now. They had a good chance at qualifying for the AFCCL but lost out. It will be amazing if BFC can win the I-League and qualify for the AFCCL.

  • kr

    Looking at the present state of Indian football, playing regular football is an achievement for the lads in India. I appreciate and am proud of Bengaluru FC. India can built the mindset of the youngsters easily to keep the possession of the ball. But in this process, we must not let their creativity hamper. The greatness of football is possession with tricks which confuse the defender. Except for messi and may be pedro, I don’t see any barcelona player taking such risks. SO youngsters must be taught to express themselves on the field, by that I don’t mean kick the ball in the air all the time. Let’s club the Brazilan style with spanish’s ;)

    • samiOOTB

      That’s true mate. Very well said.

      But first, Indian football needs some on-field organisation, standards and benchmarks. “expressing yourself”, even as a youngster is crucial, but the latter is more important in my opinion. Once their basics are right, the rest can fall into place. And basics should be possession football.

      This is why I don’t like Stoke City’s style of play under Pulis. Neither do I agree with the statement that “there is a right way of playing football, and that is the beautiful way”. Even though Stoke get results, for a youngster to develop, it’s a horrible club to join, in my opinion. That is what is happening in Indian football.

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