Buttercup Anemone, the official municipality flower of Baerum will miss a certain Indian resident by the time it flower’s next Spring. Dying off to its root by mid-March, the flowering period post a harsh winter will certainly miss one of Norway’s safest pair of hands to bloom in.
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Gurpreet Sandhu, India’s number one, has sealed a move back to Bengaluru FC and India’s IT capital from the Tippenligen side Stabaek FC and one Oslo’s affluent suburbs. Not written in the stars as so much as on the official transfer document, the reigning Federation Cup champions have pulled off the probably impossible and tempted one of the country’s gems back to Sub-continental shores.
Was it the growing influence of Indian football and the chance to a part of a building revolution that convinced Sandhu or did Bengaluru’s sheer brawn and persistence that aided them in nabbing one of the country’s prized football assets? A strategic marriage of the two can be attributed to this seismic event.
To understand the strategy behind Bengaluru FC’s capture, we only need to look at the club’s performance at the Indian Super League (ISL) draft, recently concluded in July. There were two points which were conspicuous on that day.
Bengaluru were one of the clubs who proposed that the Under-21 retention rule in the Indian Super League (ISL) be altered to an Under-22 which would have then allowed them to retain Amrinder Singh, Sunil Chhetri (as senior players) and Udanta Singh (as an Under-22)
The Mahilpur-born former Pune FC academy graduate Singh saw out a Federation Cup winning campaign especially with clean sheets in the semi-finals and finals against two of India’s most veritable competitors – Aizawl and Mohun Bagan respectively.
However, given that the ISL rules stipulated that they could only retain two senior players and the Under-21 rule wasn’t changed, the club opted to let go of Amrinder, who was then signed by Mumbai City FC for 1 crore 20 lakhs INR.
Secondly, the Southern Eagles placidly took Lalthuammawia Ralte as a secondary keeper when they finally had their options open in the third round of the draft picks. Having already seen the likes of Albino Gomes and Subrata Paul head to the Delhi Dynamos and fellow newbies Jamshedpur FC, the Blues responded by taking home ‘one of their own’.
But this is where the truth really hits home. The Jindal Steel Works (JSW) owned franchise had already initiated talks with Sandhu and his contingent before the draft. In fact the moves to pick Ralte was taken with due consideration of the Hoshiarpur-born number one being on-board.
Fast and effective footing was required because the two-time I-League champions had already identified their weakest link in the absence of Amrinder – a strong number one. With their participation in the Asian Football Confederations (AFC) Cup knockouts and the ISL, Albert Roca needed to be given a team whose chinks in armour seemed nullified and on the basis of the club’s moves before the draft, he certainly is getting one.
Before the draft even began, Bengaluru’s decision to retain Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh was key the build-up to tying down Sandhu. The duo represent the best India have to offer in terms of football talent. Chhetri’s achievements have lifted him onto a pedestal of where Indian football is synonymous with him at the forefront, while Udanta Singh looks set to carry that torch forward. Therefore, tying these two down convinced the now former Stabaek number one that he will be part of something special at Bengaluru FC.
It’s now not undeniable that Sandhu’s capture gives the West Block Blues backed side the bragging rights on the pitch with three of India’s best talents all draped in their colours. The sparkle of having two national team captains in the side is all too captivating as well.
For all of the above, Mandar Tamhane, the diligent Chief Technical Officer (CTO) must be given credit. Three of Indian football’s poster boys will now be on his team’s roster.
The process of attaining his signature wasn’t straight-forward however.
It must be revealed here that clubs such as FC Pune City, Atletico de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos and Kerala Blasters all vied for his signature, much like the speciality cooks on Haji Ali Road in Mumbai vie for an epicurean customer’s attention on a busy day.
Bengaluru and Tamhane moved fast in first ensuring Sandhu had good contact with the club. This was ensured when they allowed him to train with the first team during the Tippenlaegen’s off-season a couple of seasons back. Sandhu was said to have been most impressed with how the team conducted themselves behind the scenes, living up to their tagline of being the most professional club in India – resonating much more than most ISL clubs do.
Sandhu’s mind is also said to have been tipped by the prospect of participating in the upper echelons of Asia’s premier football competition. Therefore, when Tamhane masterminded the move, there was only one way the cookie was going to crumble, and that was into Roca’s plate. What’s more? Bengaluru FC have paid Stabaek an undisclosed transfer fee for the lanky 6’4” keeper, which tells you about their intent.
The signing of the 25-year-old also provides a small moral victory for the I-League, India’s less enamoured top-tier football competition. Mind you, Bengaluru have only ventured into the ISL this season and despite the more established teams in the competition approaching the goalkeeper, he opted to move to the JSW-owned team which only goes to show the brand they have built in certainly much more valuable than most of the existing ISL franchises.
This is why the club in India’s Information Technology (IT) hub are the best in India. The conclusion of his registration with the AFC was at lightning speed. The team’s prospect with Sandhu in goal can be debated upon by pundits, but there is no denying the leverage the club will have now in convincing an Indian player abroad to relinquish his reins, abroad to live the Indian dream, in India.
This only goes to show how Bengaluru FC still lead the pack when it comes to planning their squad.