Bengaluru FC was the most consistent and dominant team in last season’s Indian Super League; but a managerial change and several roster changes could make going onwards and upwards tougher than usual.
Two I-League titles (2013–14, 2015–16), two Federation Cups (2014–15, 2016–17) and a Super Cup in 2018 – That’s five trophies in five years! For a club that was only established in 2013, that’s very, very good.
Last season was Bengaluru FC’s first season in the Indian Super League and they finished top of the league. They were dominant throughout the league season and finished with 13 wins out of 18 games played. In the playoffs held after the league season, Bengaluru reached the final and narrowly lost to Chennaiyin FC in the final (2-3).
This season could prove to be challenging for Bengaluru. A managerial change – Carles Cuadrat takes over from Albert Roca. And there have been a whole lot of roster changes. As many as 15 players have left Bengaluru FC this season. The most prominent among them is John Johnson who joined ATK this season after five years at Bengaluru FC.
Defenders Rahul Bheke, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Harmanjot Khabra, midfielders Erik Paartalu, Boithang Haokip, Dimas Delgado, striker Thongkhosiem Haokip and first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have all extended their contracts with Bengaluru. Indian and Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri and winger Udanta Singh are contracted till the end of the 2019-20 season.
Aside from John Johnson, midfielders Malsawmzuala, Alwyn George (to FC Pune City), Lenny Rodrigues (to FC Goa), defender Subhashish Bose (to Mumbai City FC), striker Daniel Lalhlimpuia (to Delhi Dynamos), goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte (to FC Goa) have left the club.
Bengaluru FC also released the Spanish trio of Toni, Víctor Pérez Alonso, and Daniel Lucas Segovia.
The Indian players signed this season include winger Kean Lewis, goalkeeper Soram Poirei, defenders Rino Anto, Gursimrat Singh Gill and Sairuat Kima. Bengaluru FC also signed Spanish winger Xisco Hernández, Bhutanese forward Chencho Gyeltshen and Spanish center-back Albert Serrán.
Carles Cuadrat was part of the famed La Masia (FC Barcelona Youth Academy) and played for the Barcelona youth teams between ’78 and ’88. He also coached and worked as a physical trainer for FC Barcelona youth teams.
In the year 2009, Cuadrat was part of Frank Rijkaard’s technical staff at Turkish club Galatasaray and Saudi Arabia. In 2014, he assisted Albert Roca who was managing El Salvador. When Roca moved to Bengaluru FC in 2016, he joined him as an assistant coach.
Following Roca’s departure at the end of last season, Cuadrat was appointed head coach for the 2018-19 Indian Super League season.
Carlos Cuadrat maintains that Bengaluru FC will continue playing possession football – the blueprint laid out by him and Albert Roca.
“The main thing is that his philosophy is my philosophy; have no doubts about that. I’ve been working with him for the last 10 years and we believe in the same kind of football. Also, if you have the same kind of players, the logical thing would be to continue with the same philosophy. This is what we’ve been striving for the last few years and we believe in playing that kind of a game.”
Players to Watch
Sunil Chhetri: He scores goals. Captain Fantastic. 14 goals in 21 games.
Miku: Second highest scorer in the league last season with 15 goals in 20 games.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: With John Johson at ATK, the Indian international has more responsibility in organising the defence.
Chencho Gyeltshen: The Bhutanese forward could prove to be the surprise package this season.
Albert Serrán: The former Espanyol, Swansea player can play any position in defence.
A raft of departures this season could mean it can take time for Bengaluru to play cohesively. But a good pre-season which included a two-week tour of Spain where they played against ‘B’ teams of Villarreal and Barcelona should hold them in good stead.
The manager has a lot to live up to. Ashley Westwood set a high precedent as to what is expected at the club. Albert Roca took Bengaluru deep into AFC tournaments and finished top of the league last season.
Bengaluru should easily qualify for the playoffs. After that, it’s the two or three-game playoff run that is going to be the challenge.