With I-League clubs such as Bengaluru FC, Pune FC, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa releasing players for the Indian Super League (ISL) this term, it seemed everyone had shed well-documented differences with the inter-city competition.
Then, Bharat FC decided to walk on a different path. Players are the one missing ingredient in the club that finished last in the I-League, and after quashing rumours that they would wind up, club co-owner Kunal Agarwal told HT that they will try to steer clear of ISL players to the extent possible.
Having come on board late last season they had to do the opposite.
“We started in the first week of December and had very little time to arrange the team and preseasons. Also, the pool of players we could choose from was really small. We had to loan players from the ISL because most free agents had been signed by the league’s organisers,” said Agarwal over the phone from Pune.
“This time we want to restrict the inflow and outflow of players from the ISL to two or three. Going to a different coach for three months means the whole philosophy and playing style changes. Then there is fatigue and injury post-ISL to deal with.
“There are around 70 players who weren’t picked by ISL franchises in the draft. We have identified our targets and should have around 20 players who should start training by August 20. Our coaching staff stays the same. We want to build a squad that will be with us for some time, one that will be ours.”
For now, Justine Stephen (Chennaiyin FC) and Ashutosh Mehta (Mumbai City FC) are players in the ISL whom Bharat FC have made an offer to. Agarwal said as owners, he and the Kalyani Group were “extremely disappointed” by the performance last season.
“But we are in this for the long term. The owners have reassessed the situation and we will focus on youth development, grassroots and on our academy.”
Agarwal also said Bharat FC are planning at least three tournaments in Pune, one each for corporates, schools and colleges. “We plan to start them in September and the winners will get to see a match in the English Premier League. Instead of offering prize money we think this will engage the winners more with football.”
Since Agarwal was part of the set-up at Bengaluru FC too, his experience has been quite a study in contrasts.
“The circumstances were different. At Bengaluru FC, we started in February and played in October. The coaches were on board by May and the players by June. And BFC played a strong home game to start with. Also, there was no distraction of the ISL. At Bharat FC due to a personal bereavement, we started late and the league last term too was really compressed; it began in January and ended in May. So we got little chance to recover,” he said.