Westwood's winning ways

Last Updated 03 May 2014, 09:17 IST

Football is a strange, old game at the best of times.  A kid born in Rosario in Argentina goes to call Barcelona in Spain his home. 

There are more fans for Manchester United in China than in, say, Europe. 

And, then, a bloke, born in Bridgnorth, a small town (a 2008 Census estimate puts the population at 12,216), in Shropshire County in the West Midlands in England, gets the treatment of the kings when he is being chaired by his players and support staff at Bangalore's International Airport after guiding his club Bengaluru FC to I-League glory, India’s top-tier club football competition.

From Salford in Manchester to Ashok Nagar in Bangalore, Ashley Westwood will completely endorse Sir Alex Ferguson’s oft-repeated quote: “Football eh, bloody hell.

”The club was still an embryo when Westwood joined last July. 

Of course, the Manchester United tagline — he is their academy graduate — helped but he has created his own path to success rather than using a label from the past.

Indian football is so complex that no single person or entity can claim, ‘veni, vidi, vici’, but it is no exaggeration to say that Westwood has been at the heart of BFC’s unexpected success.

Of course he was caught in two minds when he was first offered the job: “I thought it was a gamble,” he says. 

“Going from a country in the top 10-15 in the world, to a country which is about 150th – on paper – could have been a backward step. 

“But when I spoke to other people, I realised that I could show an area of adaptability, experience at a different level, in a different country and a different culture.

” Before long he was sold on the plan.Westwood was brave to assert himself on the players and implement the work ethose he brought from England right from the word go, helping the club hit the ground running.

One of the more surprising ingredients of this success story has been the style of play. There is a video that Bengaluru FC likes to play on match-days — either before the start of the match or during half-time. 

The DJ suddenly cuts off the music before Westwood, whose close cropped hair and a broad forehead make sweat drip down endlessly, can be seen shouting the first three tenets at the club: 

"First touch, pass and move."  That BFC and their players struggled to execute those three tenets properly for the opening months shouldn’t come as a surprise because they all grew up on different styles. 

That they managed to take on board almost all of what Westwood demanded gradually is a credit to the English coach.

The support staff and the players have also been taken by Westwood – most of them refer to him as ‘Gaffer,” which indicates that the club has already been anglicised to an extent.

British humourWhile Westwood is not a typical Brit in that he doesn't drink, he has treated the hacks on the BFC beat to the trademark British sense of humour on a number of occasions. 

After the club's skipper Sunil Chhetri went on a scoring spree, Westwood said his success was because “he is playing under the best coach in Indian football.” 

Another time, when Westwood was asked why he kept on arguing with the fourth referee of the day, Maria Rebello, he replied: "Oh, I was just trying to ask her phone number but she was having none of it.

"His coup de grace came early this week when Manchester United let go off their manager David Moyes. 

“They couldn’t afford me,” he said of the vacant manager’s post.He has already attracted attention back in the English press and it is only bound to increase after FourFourTwo, the long-running monthly football magazine, publish an ‘inside story on Bengaluru FC’s triumph’, in next month’s edition. 

Westwood is expected to feature heavily. 

Andy Mitten, the journalist who is writing on BFC for FourFourTwo, feels that Westwood’s story interested the British press because of it being unique. 

“Ash's story was of interest to us because it's so different – an Englishman in India,” he says. 

“It's as interesting for all the colour that goes with that as the football itself, which is not of a high standard compared to professional football in England.

”Mitten also reckons that Westwood has shown that there is life outside of coaching the lower leagues in England. 

“Most (coaches) will stay with what they know, but it (his triumph) shows there is a life away. Ashley joined a club with a good structure. Players get looked after and so does the manager.

”Westwood has remained unflinching in his desire to take BFC to new heights, even when there have been a couple of come hither looks cast in his direction from England.

The brief, irrespective of the unlikely victory, remains the same. "This is a three-to-five year project." Westwood looks like he is not going anywhere in a hurry.

(Published 26 April 2014, 16:50 IST)

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