ISL: Party time for Bengaluru!

GLITTERING HAUL: BFC captain Sunil Chhetri and goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, the Golden Glove winner, arrive with the ISL Trophy at the Kempegowda International Airport on Monday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

With six titles in as many years since its inception in 2013, Bengaluru FC (BFC) have well and truly established themselves as the country’s top football club.

BFC had won both I-League (2013-14, 2015-16) and Federation Cup (2014-15, 2016-17) twice and clinched the Super Cup last year. The only domestic competition they hadn’t won was the Indian Super League (ISL). They came close to doing that last season but fell short in the final hurdle, losing 3-2 to Chennaiyin FC in the title-decider.

On Sunday, that trophy was also added to their cabinet after they defeated FC Goa 1-0 in the final.

The victory also secured a place for BFC in the AFC Cup next season. BFC had come within a touching distance of securing a famous triumph in Doha in the AFC Cup a couple of years ago, but stumbled in the final, going down 1-2 to Air Force Club of Iraq.

One man who epitomises the club’s philosophy is Sunil Chhetri. The club captain, who emerged BFC’s top-scorer with nine goals, threw light on the work that went behind the feat. “We’ve been working hard to try and win it because only if you win it, you get that Asian slot. It is a tough job,” said Chhetri.

“We always thought we needed to reach the top four first and then give ourselves a chance again,” he added.

The BFC skipper also lauded the match-winner Rahul Bheke, calling him a leader who fixes problems. “Rahul Bheke is a guy who fixes things for us. If there is any leakage in the team, ask him and he’ll fix it. He has played as a left-back, right-back, he has defended and scored goals. Whenever he speaks he makes sense and he is a leader. Slowly he is turning into a club legend. I have no qualms in saying that it has just been two years and he’s been fantastic,” he said.

After recording 11 wins on the trot in the first phase of the league, BFC’s form took a sudden dip in the second half as Carles Cuadrat started rotating the squad. In the next seven games, the champions registered four losses, two wins and a draw. In between, the loss of in-form Erik Paartalu due to an injury for the remainder of the fixtures also added to their woes. 

“Losing him at that juncture, I believe, is what compelled the coach to rotate the squad more. Fitness was not a worry. He made sure that we got enough rest. He was not taking any chances,” said Chhetri. “We might not have been as fluent as we were last year when we were scoring so many goals. But defensively, we were a solid unit.”

Physicality is not usually the word one would associate with BFC, who are known to play attractive, free-flowing football. But this season, the Blues stood tall against the challenges and didn’t shy away from making necessary tackles. 

“We played tough football but we weren’t dirty. We play the same way in training. There is no malaise. Nobody wants to hurt anyone. Coach says unless you fight, your quality will not show. If the other team wants to fight and you’re not ready for that battle then you’re gone. We were physical because it was a part of the plan but no boy in my team ever wants to hurt anyone,” Chhetri remarked.

BFC’s next engagement is the Super Cup in Bhubaneswar next week.

“We just want to win trophies. When we go to the Super Cup, we won’t go as a complacent ISL winning team. We will go there as hungry as ever, and we’ll try to win that trophy, taking it match by match,” said Chhetri. 

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ISL: Party time for Bengaluru!

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