Bengaluru FC players celebrate with coach Ashley Westwood after clinching the I-League title following their 4-2 win over Dempo in Margao on Monday. (HT Photo)
Bengaluru FC emerged on the Indian football scene to challenge the lack of professionalism that ailed the sport and staying afloat in their debut season.
And they tried to hire specialists in every department. This attention to detail provided them the platform to dream of doing something never achieved in nearly two decades of the national league.
Things were decidedly low-key at the start. Last September, there was little to the newbies apart from one massive banner at the Bangalore Football Stadium. By the end of the season, Bengaluru FC were playing to full houses.
“Just hope everybody realises what a big achievement this is for a club only formed in June. We have shown what can be done with combined teamwork. I would especially want to thank the fans,” Ashley Westwood, Bangalore FC’s coach, told HT after the win.
Focus on fitness
With former Davis Cupper Mustafa Ghouse as team COO, the side’s focus on fitness was evident from the beginning.
“I know how important fitness is in sport and football. When I was training in Europe at the age of 13, there were so many boys who were not as good as me tennis-wise. But they were way fitter. I immediately realised the difference. From a very young age, I realised the value of being fit. It is imbibed in my system,” said Ghouse. “We have specific fitness trainers. In fact, most involved with the team have played a sport. The mandate has been pretty clear – to have the fittest squad around.”
There was another guideline the management had to adhere to: the ‘fittest squad’ had to be built, not formed of existing stars.
“Our coach (Westwood) was a player himself and comes from the Manchester United stable. Pradyum Reddy (assistant coach) was the first one on board. He identified the Indian players we should sign. Again it was clear that we wanted young players and not established stars,” Ghouse revealed. “Then Ashley came in and decided on the foreign players (such as central defender John Johnson who played a crucial role in the campaing), apart from filling the remaining gaps with the support staff coming in.”
Unconfirmed estimates put Bengaluru FC spend on the first-team at less than `10 crore, significantly less than East Bengal and Mohun Bagan for whom the wait for a maiden I-League title continues.