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When Bengaluru FC was formulated back in 2013, a promise was made. A promise which every newly formed team needs to make to the All-India Football Federation. To be added straight into the top-division of Indian football, the JSW (Jindal Steel Works) owned Bengaluru FC promised to not be relegated for three seasons from the league. Job, well done.
Bengaluru FC, in it’s debut season, has done what no one before them was capable of achieving, they won the I-League at the first time of asking, in their debut season, in their first few months as a unit.
OutsideoftheBoot.com was invited by the club, to the first press conference that the club held after claiming their maiden I-League title, with head coach Ashley Westwood, captain Sunil Chhetri, CEO Parth Jindal, COO Mustapha Ghouse, Team Manager Mandar Tamhane and assistant coach, Pradhyum Reddy in attendance. We got a little more insight into how this achievement was made and what plans the club has for the future.
As this website is obsessed with tactics, we were quick to find out Ashley Westwood’s ideology behind the European style 4-1-3-2 possession based approach as opposed to the pragmatic 4-4-2 ‘hoof-ball’ game we have been accustomed to seeing previously in the country. It’s a formation clearly concerned with more advance football that Ashley Westwood has experienced with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Portsmouth etc. When asked what he did differently to what he would in England, Westwood was quick to tell us that the key behind Bengaluru FC’s success is that they didn’t do anything different to that in England, and that worked in the side’s favour. Ashley Westwood had made it clear to the club owners that he wanted to implement an attacking brand of football, common to many teams in England and the lower leagues but largely alien to the Indian sub-continent.
“Before I came here, I had spoken to everyone connected with the club and one of the questions they asked me was what would be the style of play. I had made my mind up that we wanted to be an attacking side. We wanted to be a whole-hearted and committed side, with emphasis on modern fitness and team shape.
We didn’t come here and say Indian players play this way or the English players play that way. We came in with our system, everyone adapted to that quite quickly and it was just a question of building on the foundation at the club. There is no difference would be my answer to how we’d approach things in England and India and that’s the reason we’ve been so successful. I’ve not done anything differently to what I was doing at Championship clubs, the lads have responded well and we’ve all seen the results.”
It was the type of football, essentially, that has seen Bengaluru FC triumph this season. A system which is ‘normal’ in more established footballing regions, it was well-advanced for the level of football this part of the country is accustomed to.
Westwood was particularly clear to state how well they’ve emphasised on the importance of training, working hard on non-matchdays and how well the players have responded to the system.
“I’ve trained the boys exactly how I would at a Championship club. The training sessions are no different (to the ones in England). It got us a while to get the players up on fitness but with 4-5 weeks under the belt, it was normal. Just like it would be at a Championship club.”
As is common with any football club towards the end of the season, fans are eager to find out what plans the management has for the new season. Without dwelling into too many details, Ashley Westwood stated how the club would be looking for new targets, new players which will be needed to improve the squad. And this is vital as Parth Jindal quickly pointed out how the club has every intention of retaining the I-League title for years to come. Easier said than done, but certainly within the side’s capabilities for which improvements are needed.
Sunil Chhetri was asked how potential new players would effect the balance of the team and the “family” they’ve built already. But again as fans will realise, Chhetri too explained how improvements are always needed and the coach is trusted by the players. As long as they work hard, have a good work-ethic, they will be rewarded.
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The management also told the press how they’ve set out new goals and will face new challenges in the coming season. Retaining the title is probably more difficult than winning it initially. Bengaluru FC came into their first season with a lot of excitement and anticipation but next season they’ll be dealing with a lot of pressure which their success has thrown upon them; intriguing to see how the largely young squad deal with it.
The topic of continental obligations came up and we were interested to know what Ashley Westwood’s perception of the competition is and how will they deal with the added number of games. The ex-United youngster was honest in his reply as he stated that, understandably, the team will be effected by having to play in another competition, but it’s something they’re excited to deal with. Both Westwood and Jindal stated that the club was adamant they would try everything in their hands to be the first Indian club to participate in the AFC Champions League, for which they will have to play a rather difficult qualifier.
“Obviously, the extra games will affect us and that’s where pre-season and off-season planning comes into play. We know that we are going play in such a competition, so it’s up to us to organise ourselves and make sure it doesn’t make a big impact. After winning the I-League, the next trophy is the AFC Cup and we’ll make sure that it doesn’t affect us too much.”
We were also keen to get Sunil Chhetri’s idea behind how the training at Bengaluru FC compared to that which he experienced during his stint in Portugal and the United States, and how the professionalism compared as well. The Indian team captain too stated that Bengaluru FC was as professional as any club he had played in, pointing out how the fitness coaches kept the side motivated by making references to European clubs like Manchester City – “Man City players do this in training everyday, why can’t you?!”
“As far as professionalism is considered, we are almost there. That is the only reason we are champions today. You know you can talk about a lot of things, but the most important thing is how we train. You can compare the methods here to the best clubs in the world.”
Parth Jindal and Mustapha Ghouse also stated how the club had utilised the services of sports science institute, H.E.A.L, based out of Mumbai, further showing how the club has used modern techniques used in European football in an ever evolving sports industry.
Captain Sunil Chhetri was also quizzed about how the media has criticised him by stating that he only turns up for the national team and has largely been absent at club level, and whether this seasons’ performance has put an end to that notion. Chhetri’s goal against Dempo in the match that confirmed the title, equaled Baichung Bhutia’s goal-scoring record, and he has one more game to surpass it. The captain stated that he hoped that more people make these claims as it only drives him forward, keeps him motivated and that his effort was the same at all levels.
“I wish they still go on, they keep me motivated. Whenever I hear that I don’t play for the club like I do for the national team, it makes me more hungry to do well. Hence, I hope the tag doesn’t stop today. From the day I started playing football, I haven’t bothered much about what people say as at the end of the day, as long as I do what I can to the best of my abilities. It didn’t change when I wasn’t scoring, it won’t change when I’m scoring now. People can continue to talk, it just motivates me to do better.”
Ashley Westwood was also asked about possibly taking over at Manchester United, now that David Moyes has been sacked. “They can’t afford me!” was Westwood’s prompt reply who a few days back in Goa, after the Dempo win was asked the same question and stated Man United’s “telescope doesn’t reach this far”.
As has been the topic of discussion among Indian football followers, CEO Parth Jindal was asked about his thoughts on the newly created Indian Super League, which works as competition for the existing I-League. A few stares and looks before Jindal made his stance clear that he wouldn’t talk about the ISL as he isn’t associated with it. He wished them luck but refused to comment further.
A rather bizarre question was asked by one of the reporters on an unnamed steel magnate from the city who was interested in getting English club Arsenal to the city for a pre-season friendly. Mr Jindal’s response of bewilderment was mirrored by most in the room, and us ourselves as he completely denied the rumour and questioned it’s authenticity.
Bengaluru FC has also announced their Soccer Schools program, to promote grassroots football in the country, something we wrote about recently. Parth Jindal provided more clarity on the topic.
“We launched BFC soccer schools a week ago and that is another opportunity for us to scout talent. Young players from there will be inducted into our youth academy. Our aim is to look for young talent in Bangalore and there is an abundance of that here. As we speak, a ground is being constructed at Vijaynagar. The academy will be used to train talent not only for players from Bangalore but the entire country. Obviously, the focus will be on Karnataka but it will be a pan-India academy.”
To end the session we got one final question across to the boss. We were informed on Twitter by a Crewe fan how Ashley Westwood is actually a Crewe Alexandra legend, where he has played 125 games. When we asked him whether his time at Crewe was more memorable or the legendary status he has achieve at Bengaluru FC, he was humble in his response and refused to consider himself to be a legend, insisting it was a team effort and credit should be equally shared. Clearly Ashley has learnt how to handle the media during his time in England.
The club definitely look determined to achieve their goals and are continuing to set the benchmark for the rest to follow both on and off the field. Just merely holding this press conference in front of the established media stations, and this website, is a huge step which most clubs in the past have failed to do so. Promotion is as important as the actual application itself, and Bengaluru FC are paving the way for more success in the coming seasons.
Special thanks to Bengaluru FC Media Head, Kunaal Majgaonkar, for inviting us to this event. Featured image taken from bengalurufc.com