The opening day of pre-season is unlike any other on the footballing calendar. New faces, enthusiastic players, refreshed first team coaches with new ideas and training methods and pristine looking training kits all add to the charm.
All these attributes of the first day of a new dawn were on full view at the Bangalore Football Stadium on Friday as the Bengaluru FC players were put through their paces.
Wearing new training gear and instructing his wards to sharpen their first touch, BFC coach, Ashley Westwood, who had kept himself busy by playing in one of the myriad local leagues during the off-season, was already in the thick of the action.
Addressing media persons later, Westwood said he was looking forward to the new season (which won’t start until December because of the Indian Super League). “It feels like we have been away for ages but it’s only been for four weeks,” he said.
“I am looking forward to see how the new players shape up during pre-season and hopefully we can get them up to the standards that we think we can.”
BFC have made some high-quality additions in the tranfer window and Westwood spoke about two of the recuits in depth. “One of the players that we bought, Eugeneson, from Rangdajied is a central midfielder. He is quick and athletic and did a good job on Johny Menyongar when we played them. He looked quite strong in the tackle and he has come in to add strength to the midfield.”
The other high profile signing is former England U-20 captain Joshua Walker.“Those are the kind of foreign players that we are after... the ones who have come through Premiership Academies.
“He’s a box-to-box midfielder and he has a good passing range on him and we know that he wants to be here.”
While Westwood refused to be drawn into a comparison between Menyongar, who departed the club after the end of last season, and Walker, he did say Walker was a more natural fit in his position.
The ISL has attracted plenty of comment from around the footballing world but Westwood called it a ‘distraction’.
“I couldn’t tell anything about it to be honest. Unless my management says, ‘let’s do this or do that’ my concentration will be on the first team.
“And to me, the ISL seems to be a distraction at this moment in time.” As the champions of the I-League, BFC get an entry into Asia and when he was asked about the extra load, Westwood said he saw it as a challenge.
“In England, you plan for a 50-game season. With the AFC coming in and the I-League having dropped some teams (because of failed licensing criteria), the number of matches we play might balance itself out but the travel will be different. But we love challenges and we don’t see it as any extra pressure,” he explained.