BY SARTHAK DUBEY Follow @SarthakDubey27 on twitter
Direct entry into I-League: Bengaluru FC was formed after the JSW group won the franchise rights to kick start an I-League club from Bangalore. The AIFF (All India Football Federation) rewarded the new entrants from the Garden City with a three year relegation-freeze from India's top division after the JSW group agreed upon investing in and improving football infrastructure in the city, in return.
All their home matches will be played on astroturf laid out as part of FIFA's 'GOAL Project' at the Bangalore Football Stadium. The club's players, staff, jersey and logo were launched at a mega-event hosted by the JSW group on 20th July.
After HAL's (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) brief stint with the I-League in 2011, Bengaluru FC would become the first team to represent Bangalore in the top division. The club has been tirelessly carrying out promotional activities over the past two months; holding open training sessions for fans, interacting with the youth at pubs and restaurants, making appearances at celebrity events, setting up football clinics at colleges and making new fans at launch events.
| THE COACH
Ashley Westwood, the former Manchester United youth graduate, has been roped in by Bengaluru FC as the Head Coach. The 37 year old Englishman joined Manchester United aged 10 and progressed through the youth system till he was 19. After failing to make any first team appearances, Ashley decided to turn down a two-year contract extension and moved on to Crewe Alexandra in 1995 in search of regular first team football. Ever since, it has been a rollercoaster 15 year journey in English Football for the former defender having represented many clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Northampton Town, Chester City, Wrexham, Kettering Town and Portsmouth.
The new Bengaluru FC coach decided to take a step into management and assisted former Portsmouth manager Michael Appleton at Championship clubs like Blackpool and Venky's-owned Blackburn Rovers. Westwood was appointed caretaker manager of Kettering Town in 2012 after it was hit by financial crisis. On 2nd July 2013, Bengaluru FC CEO Parth Jindal announced the signing of Ashley Westwood - “We are pleased to appoint Ashley Westwood as the head coach of the club. He is young, experienced and shares our vision and passion for the game. We believe he is the right man to take our club to where we want to see it.”
The Englishman had a small chat with Goal on the nature and style of his management. Here's what he had to say - "Every single player at this club will be treated in the exact same manner, be it foreigner or Indian. We have no superstars at this club, everybody will be treated exactly the same for me. I am a fair and honest person. I treat everybody on the merit. I have been a player for 15 years and until two years ago I was still playing, so I understand what it takes to be a footballer. I am bringing in my own playing experience for the lads at the club and definitely want to work to progress."
| TRANSFER DEALINGS
TRANSFERS IN: The club have signalled their intent by making some ambitious signings. Bengaluru FC completed the signing of two foreigners in the form of John Johnson, a defender who has represented Middlesborough in the Premier League and Reading academy graduate Curtis Osano. The new I-League entrants made headlines by capturing the signatures of the Indian National Team captain Sunil Chhetri and promising young striker Robin Singh from East Bengal. More I-League experience was added to the team with the transfer of Liberian attacking-midfielder Johnny Menyongar who has represented Dempo and Shillong Lajong earlier. Sean Rooney, the former Salgaocar striker from Australia was signed on a one-year contract. Football fans in Bangalore would remember former HAL winger Malemngamba Meetei who was also brought in. Other exciting young talents in the squad include goalkeepers Vinay Kumar and Bruno Colaco, left back Lalrozama Fanai, midfielders Thoi Singh and Darren Caldeira and young striker Karan Sawhney.
| FORMATION AND TACTICS
When contacted by Goal, Ashley Westwood understandbly decided to keep team tactics confidential for the I-League opener against Mohun Bagan on 22nd September. The gaffer decided against discussing formations and strategy, but upon analysis, the team at Goal came out with a probable starting line-up using a 4-3-1-2 formation:
The two foreign players, namely John Johnson and Curtis Osano, will form the centre-back pairing while Rino Anto is expected to beat the challenge from Vishal Kumar tio win the right-back slot. Lalrozama Fanai and Keegan Pereira will battle it out for a place in the left back position.
Johnny Menyongar could be a key man operating in the hole behind the attackers, as used by Pradhyum Reddy (now assistant manager at Bengaluru FC) at Shillong Lajong. His role primarily will be to link the midfield with the attack and provide the crucial through balls for the strikers.
Thoi Singh and Malemngamba Meetei are exciting wingers who love to dribble and skip past defenders.
Sunil Chhetri and Sean Rooney are expected to lead the line with Robin Singh being used as a substitute.
Man to Watch - Sunil Chhetri
Probably the best known footballer in the country after Bhaichung Bhutia, the current national team captain Sunil Chhetri raised a few eyebrows when he decided to reject lucrative offers from IMG-Reliance and join Bengaluru FC after a successful title-winning season with Churchill Brothers. Indian football's poster boy had a disappointing campaign at the recently concluded SAFF Championship in Nepal. He was criticized for his lackluster finishing and missing many scoring opportunities at crucial moments in the tournament.
The 29-year-old from Delhi will be looking to give the fans of Bengaluru FC a new name to sing with his excellent skills on the pitch and dashing personality off it. In a recent interview, the former Mohun Bagan striker reiterated his passion and commitment to his new club - “I’m used to taking burdens and I’m going to give everything I am capable of, to this club. We’re going to need everyone – right from the ball boy to the owners – to be behind us at all times and I am sure we can repay their faith.”
| SEASON'S TARGET
Ashley Westwood was once again coy when asked about his ambition and targets for the season - "We are just looking to form the perfect base and platform needed for the team. As I said before, we have no set targets for the season. We are trying to build a nice team spirit here. Our aim is to put a platform in place to improve, put good work ethics down, put some general football education in place and work and grow as a team."
The JSW-owned club has been praised and lauded for its extremely professional setup. We discussed justification for the same with Ashley - "As a professional, you have to train on and off the field. The way we prepare. Training is not just 1 or 2 hours of preparation on the field for us. Its a 24 hour process - eating, sleeping, drinking at the right time. We're trying to pass on the right kind of football information to our players."
With the management having invested crores to develop football insfrastructure in the city and bring in top India internationals like Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, few would believe that Bengaluru FC would be content with a mid-table finish. Having brought in foreigners with Premier League experience like John Johnson and Curtis Osano is further proof that the Red and Blue outfit from the Garden city will be looking to finish among the top guns in Indian football this season though it wouldn't an easy task by far.
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