How Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC used long-term planning to reach ISL final
Given how both sides have focused on investing in youth, retaining players and judicious long-term planning, it seems appropriate that Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC are contesting for the fourth season’s trophy.football Updated: Mar 17, 2018 17:48 IST
This is the first time top two teams after the league phase are playing in the final of the Indian Super League (ISL). And in the way they have focused on retaining players, investing in youth, hiring medical staff and judiciously appointing coaches, it seems appropriate that Bengaluru FC (BFC) and Chennaiyin FC (CFC) are contesting for the fourth season’s trophy.
Going into this ISL season, also BFC’s first, both teams showed how important it is to not overhaul rosters. BFC retained 11 players and CFC, including draft picks of players who were with them earlier, kept 10. Among them was Chennai midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh who was given a two-year deal this season.
“It helps if you build from a base,” said BFC coach Albert Roca who was Frank Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona.
The transition for BFC from Ashley Westwood as coach to Roca wasn’t easy and Sunil Chhetri pointed out how defeats in friendlies led to hue and cry. “But even when we lost players in the draft and had to sign new ones, our philosophy stayed the same because our coach knew this would take time,” he said.
Left-back Subhasish Bose, for instance, was not in sync with the team physically and mentally but with the help of senior players he fitted in, said Roca. BFC now have 28-30 players who provide enough depth for Roca to rotate squads for the AFC Cup and ISL, said Chhetri.
“Some of the boys who came here five years ago with their parents are now getting first-team shirts,” he said.
In the run-up to the final, BFC also gave Gurpreet Singh Sandhu a five-year deal and Erik Paartalu a new contract till 2020.
Having played the I-League meant that BFC had to invest in youth teams but they have gone beyond that with soccer schools here, an academy in Bellary, nearly 300km from here, and a reserve team in the I-League second division.
CFC, who began the season with new coach John Gregory getting introduced to the players on October 1, too are serious in investing in youth. “We have under-13, under-15 and under-18 teams and a reserve team of players between 18-20 years in the I-League second division. Almost 90% of our under-13 boys are from Chennai district,” said Amoy Ghoshal, the team’s chief technical officer.
While looking for a coach this term, CFC also wanted someone who could also get a sports scientist. Dr Niall Clark was formerly with the Manchester City squad which won the Premiership in 2011-12. This season, CFC have scored most goals in the last 10 minutes and stayed injury-free, said Ghoshal. Defending champions ATK, on the other hand, struggled with injuries and ended second from bottom.
All this has led to two teams from south India fighting for the ISL4 title. “As India captain, this feels great. When we joined the I-League, it was about massive clubs such as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. We won the I-League twice. Chennaiyin have won the ISL once and create quite a hostile atmosphere for home games. It is great for football in south India that we are playing the final here,” said Chhetri.