Roca had at that time downplayed going head-to-head with Bengaluru’s former coach by saying Ashley Westwood would not even be on the bench for ATK. He was technically right of course for it was Teddy Sheringham who sat on the bench as head coach and not the technical director.
Westwood, coach of the Bengaluru side for three years between 2014 and 2016, could only watch from afar as Sunil Chhetri led his side to a one-goal victory on the night.
All that will change on Saturday when ATK welcome Bengaluru to Kolkata for the reverse tie for this time Westwood will indeed take the bench. Sheringham has long been sacked from his position with the technical director temporarily filling in as the interim manager.
In their maiden tryst with the ISL, the JSW-owned club has come out flying and sits pretty at the top of the table with 24 points from their 12 games. The Blues’ rise from scratch since its inception in 2013 has been nothing short of meteoric. There has been no shortage of silverware for the club which has enjoyed top-flight football status in the entirety of its still brief existence so far.
Having started their journey in the I-League, success followed Bengaluru in every nook and corner as they romped home to two titles in their four years in the first division. It could very well have been three in four but for an 87th-minute equalizer by Mohun Bagan in Bengaluru’s final game of the 2015-16 season helped the Kolkata club pip Westwood’s men to the title. In this period, they also won the Federation Cup in their second season while making rapid progress in the continental AFC Cup.
Westwood, a former Manchester United academy graduate, was still somewhat of a rookie when he arrived in India as Bengaluru’s first ever manager. In his first season at the club, he bought the likes of Sean Rooney, Curtis Osano and John Johnson amongst many others. Having had only four months to prepare a brand new squad for the I-League, Bengaluru had to mostly rely on signing fringe players. The Blues took the division by storm finishing top of the pile with 47 points from their 24 games.
Having arrived as a 36-year-old, Westwood’s mandate had been to get the club into the top three. Not only did he exceed all expectations by a country mile, the Englishman also revolutionized the way a top Indian football club should be run. Taking the cue from the manager’s role in England, Westwood took charge of all aspects of training, scouting, recruitment, and diet plans for the players.
Placing emphasis on technical football, his Bengaluru side was a breath of fresh air with their style of play. Never one to rest on his laurels, Westwood continued to strengthen the squad season after season with signing young domestic talent being high priority. The likes of Udanta Singh and experienced heads like Eugeneson Lyngdoh and CK Vineeth joined in the second season while Seiminlen Doungel, Alwyn George and Daniel Lalhlimpuia arrived in the third.
Having deep pockets sure helped Bengaluru attract top notch talent but Westwood’s work in honing it into something truly special cannot be denied. Numerous youngsters flourished under his regime while senior pros like Chhetri led from the front.
By his third year at the club, his side boasted of as many as seven India internationals. For all their laurels domestically, their results in the continental competition will remain a hallmark of Westwood’s tenure. They reached the last 16 of the AFC Cup in their first attempt in 2014-15. The next season, Westwood would depart the club by mutual consent before the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup and Roca would take his place.
The Spaniard did not fare as well as Westwood in his maiden season in the I-League as Bengaluru finished fourth though he did see the side all the way through to the finals of the AFC Cup. A fourth-place finish would have delighted the owners no end in 2013-14 too but such has been the standard Westwood has set, that the 2017-18 I-League season almost seems like a failure. But even then, the Blues won the Federation Cup and gained qualification for the ongoing season of the AFC Cup.
For all of his success in front of the scene with the club, it was Westwood’s work behind the scenes which has seen the Bengaluru club succeed where the likes of Bharat FC have failed. The likes of Chhetri and Udanta are still going strong for the side in their ISL campaign, no thanks to Westwood who arrived at the club as a young coach before becoming the youngest coach to win an I-League title.
The Blues are going from strength to strength this season under Roca but Westwood will forever be a part of the club's legend. No matter what the result on Sunday, Bengaluru owe a tiny part of their success to the man who will sit on the opposition’s bench and secretly, he will know it too.