Training with purpose, playing with passion...

Training with purpose, playing with passion...

Curtis Osano, the imposing Kenyan centre-back of the Bengaluru Football Club, summed it up rather succinctly during a media interaction last month.

"When I came here and looked at somebody like Siam Hangel train, he couldn't pass it beyond three feet. He was hesitant and unsure of himself.

"Now, when I look at him in training, I'm like 'Wow, who is this guy.'"

It is no exaggeration to say that BFC, like Hangel, have undergone a sea change in identity from their first match -- against Mohun Bagan on September 22 -- to where they are today.

They are confident of passing their way through midfield along the carpet rather than bypassing their way with long diagonals which was the style of their play during the early part of the season.

The goals now come in open play – rather than through dead balls.

Rewind to September 19 when the top management of Bengaluru FC got together at a local pub to discuss their plans for the season.

The phrase ‘title challenge’, let alone, ‘winning the title’, wasn’t uttered even once.

Their main area of concern was bringing the fans into the stadium, which they have done very successfully.

So how then did Sunil Chhetri, who himself was chasing shadows in the initial matches of the season, and team find their feet, adapt to their English coach Ashley Westwood and win the League title at the very first time of asking?

It’s easy to point the finger at their owners as the prime reasons for the success – after all, Jindal Steel Works, who owns the Bangalore-based team – are estimated to be worth close to $11 bn.

While they have been supportive and have provided whatever Westwood has demanded without being intrusive, most of the success is down to him, the support staff and the players – their unity and their willingness to take on board the changes, face the challenges head on instead of cowering in what can be perceived as alien surroundings in your own country.

Westwood has always preferred to channel his inner Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, when asked if they were in the title race.

But in a media briefing in February, after returning from the Federation Cup where the team failed to get out of the group stage, he was quick to applaud his players for being at the top.

“We signed loads of players that nobody wanted. Other than Sunil, no one was an I-League regular. It’s given us team spirit because these guys have something to prove and they are proving it.”

Brought up on an entirely different training set-up, work ethos and match-play, a lot of the players had to begin by delearning whatever they had learned to pick up Westwood’s training methods.

They had to be in early as training sessions were considered to be the non-negotiable and most of the players did not let the coach down.

Nutritionists were brought in on the first day and they began monitoring the players’ calories and carbs intake and everything from the menu to the tea lady was overseen by his support staff.

The players themselves have developed a perverse sense of jolly camaraderie. Walk in during a training session and you may be surprised to find two players, standing on the edge of the goal-line with their backside to the players, receiving a furious battering with footballs to their buttocks as punishment for a misplaced pass during a five-a-side session or a mis-kick during a game of sepak takraw.

It’s painful to watch as leather strikes skin repeatedly but they all laugh it off once it’s done and there are no signs of animosity.

The natural question on everyone’s minds is what next for this football club? It’s simple, according to Westwood. “My only remit was improving the boys on a daily basis. And this is a five-year plan.”

With the AFC Cup also on its way, they are well ahead of that five-year plan.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox