Winds of change in Bengaluru football?

Winds of change in Bengaluru football?

For a while now, Bengaluru has been looking forward to its next generation which can potentially revive the legacy

Goalkeeper Ahan Prakash (in picture) and midfielder Shreyas Ketkar are two among the four boys from Bengaluru playing for the Indian Arrows, AIFF’s development team, in the I-League.

In a history dotted with names that jump off the pages, Bengaluru has produced some of the best footballers the country has seen. Their legacy, however, remains in the yellowing pages of yesteryear.

For a while now, Bengaluru has been looking forward to its next generation which can potentially revive the legacy that has slowly, but surely, eroded over the past decade.

Boasting names such as Arumainayagam, Mohan Kumar, Carlton Chapman and others from the glorious past, the city’s production line of elite footballers has been on a long sabbatical. There were flashes - an NS Manju here or a Shankar Sampingiraj there - but neither could reach the bar their predecessors have set.

This season, however, there is some gentle wind of change. Hendry Antonay, a member of the U-17 World Cup team, has been a regular for Odisha FC. His state-mate Vignesh D - although not a starter - scored probably the best goal in the Indian Super League history for Mumbai City FC.

But perhaps its the four local boys - midfielders Shreyas Ketkar (17), Chris Anthony White (17), Godwin Johnson (17) and goalkeeper Ahan Prakash (16) - in the Indian Arrows team that might just wait of Bengaluru football fans for their next big star. It’s a development team handpicked by the AIFF. 

“The potential has always been there (in Bengaluru),” says Shanmugam Venkatesh, coach of Indian Arrows and the last outstanding footballer to come from the city. “They need the right platform and opportunities at the local level through a stronger local league.”

Ahan, who was part of SAI Bengaluru, joined the AIFF Academy set-up in Odisha over a year ago and has the experience playing for the junior national team. Shreyas was picked after his performances for FC Bengaluru United in the BDFA Super Division and the I-League Qualifiers meanwhile Chris Anthony White (Ozone FC) and Godwin Johnson (Friends United) were selected after a camp Venkatesh had organised at the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE). 

“Ahan’s progression has been very good,” reveals Venkatesh. “Shreyas, Chris and Godwin, all three have great potential. They have a very good understanding of their positions on the pitch as well, an important quality.”

Meanwhile for the boys - who have plied their trade in the city’s local football ecosystem - it’s a big jump up to I-League.

“It’s the first time we are playing and dealing with the pressure at this level. It’s a learning experience on how I need to be calm to give my best,” says Johnson, who like the other three is looking to cement his place in the Arrow’s first 11.

“It is an advanced level for us and we are working to adapt to it,” adds White. While there is still a long way to go, Venkatesh feels that the selection of the four will only boost the morale of the rest of the Bengaluru players, who are facing increasing levels of competition at local division.

“Them being selected for the Arrows is a big message for other youngsters in Bengaluru. A couple of examples of players I have been able to scout from Bengaluru recently include Nikhil Raj (Kickstart FC who was on loan with Arrows at the end of last season) and Som Kumar, who is currently with the India U-16 national team,” says the coach.

While it might still take Bengaluru football a while to rise again to the lofty standards of the years gone by, there are some promising signs.