Bengaluru FC’s Road to Redemption

Last season was a disappointing one from Bengaluru FC’s perspective. This is the time for them to look back and correct their past mistakes. This is Bengaluru’s season to regain lost glory. But can they?

As part of our series, we would be taking a look at all the 10 ISL teams, where they stand at the moment and what should be the way forward for them going into the next season.

Third up on our list is Bengaluru FC.

Performance in previous season– 3th position in the league/lost in the semis.

A third place finish in the league and being unable to qualify for the final by the barest of margins should be considered a good season for a team. But not if you are Bengaluru FC. And it’s because of the standards that Bengaluru FC have set for themselves over the last seven years, the standards according to which ‘A TROPHY A SEASON’ is an absolute must.

Bengaluru FC have had rivalries with many a competitor, namely Kerala Blasters, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, even Mohun Bagan and East Bengal but there has been one competitor that stands out and it’s none other than Bengaluru FC itself. It has been the mantra at BFC to better themselves every season and thus, unable to win a trophy last season is a huge thing indeed. For other teams, winning a trophy is a massive thing, but the standards BFC have set for themselves, not winning one is a massive thing and is considered a huge disappointment indeed.

What was more disappointing last season was BFC’s performance in the AFC Cup. Ever since they have come into the picture, Bengaluru FC have been the torch bearers of Indian Football in Asia and not even managing to qualify for the main round of the tournament is shameful to say the least.

But Life has its own mysterious ways. Life has a Mantra. And that Mantra of Life is that we always get second chances. So here BFC are, knocking on the doors of yet another campaign, a domestic one as well as the one in Asia. Bengaluru Fc had no right to be playing in the AFC Cup next season but it was written in the stars that they would represent India in Asia next season and thus it is of utmost importance for them to make a good solid team for the next season and correct their past doings.

So very first of all, let’s dive a little deeper into the challenges that Bengaluru FC faced last season, which eventually led to their season getting over without a major trophy.

THE ABSENCE OF MIKU AND THE FAILURE ON BFC’s PART TO REPLACE HIM

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THE ABSENCE OF MIKU TURNED OUT TO BE THE CATALYST BEHIND BFC’s DISMAL PERFORMANCE IN ATTACK LAST SEASON

If there was one area in which Bengaluru FC particularly lacked last season, it was in the striking department and the absence of a proper foreign striker who could give them 14-15 goals a season hurt them a lot. Ask any BFC fan as to what they lacked last season and the one and only answer that we get is- “WE MISSED MIKU!” Miku was an absolute fan favourite at Bengaluru and apart from his goals, he added a totally new dimension to BFC’s gameplay by linking up with Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. We often used to see how Miku used to drop deep and Chhetri would move further forwards. Both of them played at a different level altogether and were arguably the best duo the Indian Super League had seen till then. But the decision to not retain Miku turned out to be catastrophic to BFC’s plans last season. Manuel Onwu was signed as Miku’s replacement but he failed to live upto the expectations. He got a lot of flak for his performances but was he really to be blamed? Or was it a case of poor recruitment on BFC’s part?

It turned out to be the second case as Manuel Onwu shut all his critics after a loan move to Odisha FC in the second half of the ISL. In just 4 games, he scored 7 goals for the Juggernauts. So what exactly went wrong for him at Bengaluru? Well, Onwu is more of a Target Man type of player who feeds on crosses to get his goals. He does the job of a goal poacher and is a more than capable header of the ball. At Odisha FC, he found the gameplan exactly according to his style of play as both of Odisha’s wingers- Nandha and Jerry crossed the ball towards him at every possible opportunity. He just had to do the job of placing the ball into the back of the net and he did his job with great aplomb indeed.

But Bengaluru FC’s gameplay is different to that of Odisha FC. Seldom will you find Sunil Chhetri crossing the ball. Rather than crossing the ball, Sunil likes to cut it from the left wing and take shots at goal himself. At BFC, what was required was a striker who could link up with Sunil and bring him into play and Onwu was anything but that. Thus, it was poor recruitment on BFC’s part to sign a goal poacher in Manuel Onwu rather than looking to sign a more rounded player. Even the ones who were signed in the latter half of the season- Deshorn Brown and Kevaughn Frater were similar type of players whose gameplay was more physical than technical. This ultimately cost Bengaluru FC their season as they failed to find the back of the net on a regular basis. Eventually, Sunil Chhetri was tasked with a task so big, that even he was unable to do it handsomely, despite the lofty standards he has set for himself.

So, what exactly have Bengaluru FC done to improve their problem going into the next season? Let’s take a look at the transfer decisions that BFC have taken so far.

SIGNING ALL-TIME LEADING GOAL SCORER OF THAI LEAGUE

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Well, Bengaluru have made a statement of intent right at the beginning of the transfer window that they will not take their last season’s scoring woes lightly anymore as they have announced the signing of Cleiton Silva from the Thai League.

At first, Miku was linked to a move back to Bengaluru but the Venezuelans exorbitant wage demands proved to be too much and thus, BFC signed Cleiton Silva on a 1+1 contact. Such a contract means that if BFC are happy with the player’s performance next season, they can automatically extend his contract for another season.

Cleiton Silva comes with a bagful of experience of playing in Asia. He is the Thai League’s All Time Top Scorer and has also plied his trade in the Chinese League. Basically speaking, there are two things that make the singing one to watch out for.

  1. Cleiton Silva knows where the back of the net is, as evident from his record in Thailand. The Thai League is atleast a couple of levels above the Indian Super League and being its all time top scorer is no mean feat. Having scored over 100 goals in the Thai League, Silva should really be able to find the back of the net in the ISL.
  2. The second thing to look out for in Cleiton Silva is his playing style. Unlike Deshorn Brown and Manuel Onwu who are well above 6 feet, Silva stands at a modest height of 5 feet 9 inches. Thus, he is not a Target Man type of player. Rather, he likes to run with the ball and link up with his fellow teammates. He is a versatile player and can play equally well as a striker or on the left wing. And all this points towards only one thing. Cleiton Silva and Sunil Chhetri’s combination should be one to watch out for, come the next season. Both can link up with each other and even exchange positions at times. Going by his track record and playing style, Bengaluru FC seem to have found just the type of player they missed ever so dearly last season. But what matters at the end of the day is how will Silva perform on the pitch, whether he would be able to live up to all this hype or will Miku’s shoes once again turn out to be too big to fill? Well, only time will tell.

RETAINING THE CORE OF THEIR TEAM

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The sign of a good team is continuity. And in the three seasons that Bengaluru FC have played in the Indian Super League so far, they have all but followed the principle of continuity. Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado as well as Juanan have been the pillars on which BFC have laid their foundation. And much to the delight of the fans, all three are set to continue donning the BFC colours in the next campaign. Erik Paartalu was ever so close to joining ATK Mohun Bagan but a certain Captain Leader Legend’s words had such an impact on him that he dropped the idea altogether and signed a contract extension that would keep him at the Kaanteerva for another two years. Not only Paartalu but most of BFC’s players are on long term contracts.

While the contracts of Sunil Chhetri, Raphael Augusto, Dimas Delgado and Rahul Bheke expire at the end of next season, Paartalu and Juanan are tied to BFC for atleast 2 more years. Other than these, some of the most notable Indian talent in the form of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan have contracts with BFC till the end of the 2022-23 season. Thus, with the core of the team already tied to long-term contracts, BFC can further look to bloster their team in the few departments they still lack in.

But didn’t we say that apart from the striking department, BFC were as good as it gets in every other department? Well, its true that with the arrival of Cleiton Silva, Bengaluru FC were looking all set to go all out for the Indian Super League Title once again. But the transfer of Nishu Kumar to Kerala Blasters has left a gaping hole in their ever so solid defense from the last season. Add to that, the ever so reliable Centre-Back pairing of Juanan and Albert Serran looks set to be broken with Albert Serran looking all the more unlikely to continue at BFC with every passing day. While BFC would want Serran to continue, in case he decides not to, it will carve open a huge gap in the Bengaluru Defence, which was just stellar to say the least in the previous season.

So, let’s look at what alternatives Bengaluru FC can look upto in the market as they looked to replace Nishu Kumar as well as Albert Serran. (most probably)

JOHN JOHNSON

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Is there even any need to describe John Johnson’s love affair with Bengaluru FC? Bengaluru FC’s first ever Captain, John Johnson played for the Blues for five seasons. And in those five seasons, John Johnson became a heartthrob among the BFC faithful. He was rock-solid at the back for BFC and his contributions in Bengaluru’s 5 titles out of 6 so far are second to none. A warrior like defender- John Johnson doesnt shy away from putting his body on the line and was one of the best defenders playing in India during his time with BFC. A move to ATK in the last two seasons has hampered his playing time but his quality remains undeniable. Still only 31, Johnson is at the very peak of his career and with his two-year contract at ATK already over, BFC should look to get their hands on their very own asset once again. There were tears two years back when he left for ATK as no one wanted him to leave- neither the fans, nor anyone in the dressing room and signing him back would bring back those tears on everyone’s faces, but this time the tears would be of unparalleled joy. Parth Jindal, the Bengaluru FC owner, has already said that they are trying to get back two superstars. Who knows one of them might just be John Johnson.

After his performances last season, it was going to be very difficult to replace Albert Serran, but if BFC get back Johnson, they can expect to concede even fewer goals next season. “JOHNO“, as he is fondly known among the BFC fans would be delighted to return as well and the love story between John Johnson and Bengaluru FC might just have a few chapters remaining. Who knows as to how many trophies Bengaluru might win by the end of the story!

BORIS SINGH THANGJAM

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A player with massive potential, Boris Singh is one of the finest young players in the country. In the two seasons that he played at the Indian Arrows, he showed his potential to one and all. ATK were quick to swoop in on the 20 year old and even paid a handsome transfer fees to get him. But the re-emergence of a certain Prabir Das meant that Boris got no playing time whatsoever last season. We, at IFTWC, exclusively reported that ATK is looking to offload Boris and Bengaluru could welcome Boris with open arms. An outstanding player in his own right, Boris will improve any team he goes to and Bengaluru need a left back at the moment after Nishu Kumar’s departure. Signing Boris could mean the ever so versatile Rahul Bheke shifting to the left and Boris taking his slot on the right. Joining Bengaluru would also mean playing time for Boris and it could turn out to be a match made in heaven for both the parties.

The only hindrance in the move is that Bengaluru FC would have to pay a hefty transfer fee for the player as ATK would not release him cheap. But signing a player of Boris’ calibre would surely go down well among the BFC fans, who are shattered after losing Nishu Kumar to their Southern rivals- Kerala Blasters. Bengaluru already have two of the fastest players in the country in the form of Udanta and Ashique and adding Boris to the trio could certainly turn out to be nightmarish for the opposition defences.

Parth Jindal said that it’s his dream to win the ISL Title with an All Indian XI at Bengaluru FC and signing a future National Team Star in Boris Singh might just be the first step in that direction.

SANDESH JHINGAN

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It can be a dream come true for BFC if they can get their hands on Sandesh Jhingan

And here’s a man who needs no introduction to Indian Football. A former Bengaluru player in his own right, Sandesh Jhingan can be labelled as a dream signing for the Blues. Parth Jindal has openly spoken of his desire to see Sandesh Jhingan playing for Bengaluru FC once again. Signing Sandesh Jhingan would also open up a slot for an extra foreigner in midfield which would mean all three of Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado and Raphael Augusto would be able to play together. In case BFC also manage to get their hands on John Johnson along with Sandesh Jhingan, they could also play with a 3 man defence. As far as Sandesh goes, he would be happy at BFC as well. Having spoken of his desire to win trophies, BFC might just be the ideal club for Jhingan because if there’s one club in Indian Football that chases trophies like a cat chasing mouse, it’s Bengaluru FC.

But having said all that, Sandesh Jhingan to Bengaluru FC does not look like happening anytime soon as ATK seems to be leading the race to sign the talismanic defender. But, in case Bengaluru manage to get their hands on Jhingan, it can be a signing that can have a drastic impact, not just on BFC but on the entirety of Indian Football.

PROMOTING YOUNGSTERS TO THE FIRST TEAM

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Bengaluru FC have one of the finest youth academies in the country and have been producing a lot of quality players through it. Bengaluru FC’s B team has won the Bangalore Super Division twice in two years and it just shows the quality that they possess. Bengaluru possess some of the finest Indian youngsters in their ranks in the form of Suresh Singh Wangjam, Edmund Lalrindika, Leon Augustine, Ajay Chhetri and Parag Shrivas. It’s time now for these youngsters to get promoted to the first team and act as atleast fringe players in the next season. Or else, with the quality these players possess, several other teams would be sniffing around them and it could become hard for Bengaluru to keep hold of them. Thus, it will be beneficial for both the parties to promote these players to the first them and give them chances in the First XI. Leon Augustine started a game in the latter half of the last season and impressed one and all with his pace and trickery. Edmund’s stepovers have been the talk of the town ever since he has played for the Indian Arrows. Thus, it’s time now for BFC to promote these youngsters and integrate them into the First Team. With the ISL now allowing 35 players to be registered in the squad before the start of the season and 2 developmental players in the matchday squad, it could turn out to be a great move for BFC as well as the youngsters.

Possessing such a deep squad would mean that BFC can play in several formations and they can choose the one which works best for them. So let’s take a look at what formations BFC can use in the next season.

4-3-3

Bengaluru FC's Road to Redemption lineup 2

Bengaluru can play with the regular 4-3-3 which they have been using for the past two seasons under Carles Cuadrat. In this formation, there are no tweaks as such with John Johnson being a straight swap for Albert Serran. With the arrival of Cleiton Silva, Sunil Chhetri can move back to the left wing and Udanta Singh can continue to torment defences on the right. In the midfield, Erik Paartalu is a sure starter as he is the lone Asian player in the squad. The ever so impressive Suresh can act as the other central midfielder. The third midfielder’s slot could be a toss up between Dimas Delgado and Raphael Augusto. BFC have a long season next year with the AFC Cup fixtures as well. With age not being on Dimas’s side, he can be rotated along with Augusto, who is also returning from a severe injury. In the defence, Ashique replaces Nishu Kumar and it should not be too tough for Ashique to play at left back, given the experience he mustered playing at that position last season. In case the Coach wants to use Ashique upfront, he can use young Parag Shrivas at left back. In case BFC manage to get Boris, Bheke can move to left back and Boris can play on the right side of defence. Between the sticks, there is the one and only Gurpreet Singh Sandhu guarding the goal.

4-4-2

Bengaluru FC's Road to Redemption lineup 4

Bengaluru could also play with the 4-4-2 formation which they played under Albert Roca. The major advantage in this formation is that it allows Sunil Chhetri to play in his favourite second striker position. We have all seen how lethal Sunil is when he plays along with Jeje in a 2 man attack for the National Team. Playing as a secondary striker, Sunil can drop deep at times and can also exchange positions with Cleiton Silva. A 2 striker formation requires an extraordinary link between the 2 strikers and with Cleiton Silva looking like a player who likes to link up with his teammates, it can be the perfect formation for Bengaluru. With Ashique and Udanta on the wings, it will allow them to play in their favoured positions as well. In case Bengaluru adapts this formation for the next season, we can expect a lot more goals from them and that’s the thing we all want to see, right?

3-5-2

Bengaluru FC's Road to Redemption lineup 3

Bengaluru FC can also play with a 3-5-2 formation next season. Rahul Bheke is more than a capable centre back and can slot in at the right side of defence with Juanan on the left and Johnson in the centre. Ashique and Udanta can act as the wing backs with Paartalu as the defensive midfielder. Suresh and Dimas/ Augusto slot in as the other two midfielders with Sunil and Silva leading the line for them. We all saw how ATK used this formation to great effect last season. Roy Krishna and David williams were absolutely stupendous in attack while Michael Soosairaj and Prabir Das focused on running forward at every possible opportunity and delivering quality in the box. Ashique and Udanta are even more attack minded players and can potentially have even more of an impact from the wing back positions. They are not poor in defence either, with Ashique registering 14 interceptions and 33 clearances in the last season whereas Udanta managed 15 interceptions and 5 clearances playing as a right winger. In case Bengaluru manage to get Sandesh Jhingan, this can be the most ideal formation for them as it would almost be impossible to break through a defense consisting of Juanan, Johnson and Jhingan. In attack too, they wont lack anything with Udanta and Ashique joining the attack at every possible opportunity.

3-4-3

Bengaluru FC's Road to Redemption lineup 5

Probably the least used formation in modern football, the 3-4-3 is an extremely attack minded formation. But the advantage of this formation is that in case the team is under pressure, it becomes really easy to change it to a 5-2-3 or a 5-4-1 formation. In this formation, Ashique and Suresh can be the wingbacks for BFC. While Ashique has already proven his worth as a wingback, Suresh is no outsider to the position either. Last season in the 2nd semi-final against ATK, Suresh played as a right wingback and was probably the only Bengaluru player who could hold his head high after the match, given his lion- hearted performance. In attack, Udanta can play on the right wing with Sunil and Silva exchanging positions between themselves in the centre and on the left. But playing such a formation requires really good tactical knowledge and if implemented properly, can be season defining for a team. But having said all that, the chances of Bengaluru FC playing with this formation next season look far fetched at the moment.

In our opinion, the formation which suits Bengaluru FC the most is the 4-4-2 formation with Sunil and Silva leading the line and Ashique and Udanta acting as the wingers.

Bengaluru FC had a disappointing season last time around and will be looking to go out all guns blazing in the next season. They will be a team out on a mission and the mission would be winning back the ISL Title. Last season, they were dismal in attack but things are looking good for them this time around and if everything goes as per plan, BFC could again turn out to be the team to beat next season. And as far as the AFC Cup is concerned, don’t be surprised if BFC manage to spring in yet another surprise, this time a positive one though.

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