I-League champions Bengaluru FC made waves as the first Indian team to reach the finals of the AFC Cup last year. Going into the 2016-17 I-League season, they kick-off the league as defending champions for the second time since the club’s inception in 2013.
HT spoke with head coach Albert Roca via email to discuss the plans for the upcoming season:
How’s the atmosphere in the Bengaluru FC dressing room?
We are the defending champions and have had a great run in the AFC Cup and we will fall back on those performances to launch our season. The boys are always backing themselves and each other and I’m certain the Bengaluru FC dressing room is a nice place to be.
Having won the I-League and reached the AFC Cup final last year, what are Bengaluru FC’s goals for this season?
The goal is to retain the League title and then to qualify for the group stages of the AFC Champions League. If we drop down to the AFC Cup, we’d want to go one better and win the tournament.
How has the team prepared for the new season?
The packed calendar hasn’t allowed us to plan our pre-season as well as we would have liked. But we’re not sitting here to moan about what should have been. We’ve tried to make the most of every training session and now it’s down to the games. We played four friendlies with local clubs and we managed to work on a lot of things during these games.
How does your team plan on dealing with the tag of being favourites?
The way we are dealing with the tag is by tugging it off and throwing it away. We’ve all been in football long enough to know that titles aren’t won or lost on paper. We know that everyone will be looking at us with keen following but we’re not going into the season with any sort of burden.
What are the reinforcements you have brought in for the upcoming season?
We’ve signed as many as five new players on loan and they all bring something to the squad. Khabra, Lenny and Arindam all come with experience, Sena Ralte is coming on the back of a good ISL tournament and Mandar is a young and exciting prospect.
What did Bengaluru gain from the AFC Cup run?
Our run in the AFC Cup did us a lot of good. We came up against some really good opposition and churned out results away from home. We’ve learnt a lot about ourselves as a team across the campaign and we’re constantly looking to better on every front.
With the team scheduled to play in Asia apart from the I-League, will there be concerns of fatigue?
We’ve been given a calendar that’s rather tight but there’s little we can say or do about it. Instead we’re going to get on with training to give our best every time we step out on the pitch. If we want to compete in Asia we cannot be moaning about schedules. We’ve added as many as five new players to the squad and that gives us depth.
What can we expect from the team under your style of football?
We will always be a work in progress. But yes, the systems are setting in and it’s showing with every training session. Like I mentioned, we have five new signings and we’re trying to get them up to speed with our systems and style. What you can expect is to see us always looking to get goals. We back ourselves and our systems.
How will BFC build on their AFC Cup success?
We are going to have to go from strength to strength. We showed great character in every game of our AFC Cup campaign, the final included. I can never complain that the boys gave less. The onus now lies on us to use that showing as a platform on which we build the new season. The AFC Cup had the attention of the entire nation and we’re glad we played our part.
Sunil Chhetri has never played four seasons at one club before but will do so with BFC. What are your plans for him?
He loves the club and is happy playing his football here. The fact that this is his longest stint at one club should tell you what it means to him. He’s always speaking with the younger lot and is a great example to the team. He, like most of the senior players, chips in with information or opinions on the pitch and that’s always a nice thing. I don’t think I have to make any plans for him! He takes ownership of everything he does on and off the pitch and is a great team player above everything else.