Op-Ed : Where Are Bengaluru FC Going Wrong

Saturday, 4 February 2017|Behind The Dugout by SM

Football managers are often diplomatic beings, you rarely get a straight answer. Ask Jose Mourinho about a referee, he will talk about almost every manager in the world and then not answer the question, ask Arsene Wenger about the contract situation of one of his players, he will delve deep into his soul to chalk out a bit of humour, and somehow manage to wriggle out of the question.

Albert Roca though, is sort of a different breed. He is refreshingly transparent, what they call a journalist’s dream. After the game against Mumbai FC, which Bengaluru FC, by the way, won three goals to nil thanks to a hat-trick by CK Vineeth, you would expect almost any manager to sing lyrical about his team. Not him.

“It is important to win, we are still far off the team we want to be, my impression is that, there has been a lot of information given to them, and they have still not made the digestion”, said the Spaniard. That sentence to a casual Indian football fan would have come as a surprise, especially with that being the third win in the trot for Bengaluru FC.

Armchair pundits (which includes me) would have casually cast an eye and moved on, calling it the pragmatism of a perfectionist. Two Rounds and three matches later, we know what he was talking about . The former Barcelona man obviously foresaw things differently and after three losses in a row, there is considerable proof that Bengaluru isn't the ultimate team we considered them to be after last season.

Where are they going wrong?

But, the question is, where did it go wrong? Exactly three months this team was at the pinnacle of Indian football, on almost every back page of Da. Probably the first time that happened in almost all corners of India.

Against East Bengal, they were exposed by long balls behind the defence. Against Churchill Brothers, they made individual errors leading to goals. Against, Al Wehdat they couldn’t compete in midfield, they couldn’t keep the ball. The most worrying aspect is, in three different games, opponents found three different ways to break Bengaluru FC down.

Thankfully for Bengaluru FC fans, the problem doesn’t seem to lie as deep as you get the impression of in the last three games. There are things which Albert Roca will probably know and would have considered already, being the astute tactician he is.

The centerback partnership needs a tactical rejig

The centerback partnership throughout the AFC Cup campaign looked as solid as it could have, John Johnson was the perfect foil for the ball playing Juanan. But, what was different was, in AFC Cup the centerbacks played relatively deep, as the opponents were expected to have as much of the ball as Bengaluru FC.

In the I-League though, things are different. Albert Roca’s philosophy of short passing needs his midfield to push forward when the opponents are sitting back, and in order to not let the opposition find space behind the midfield, the defence to inevitably goes forward with the midfield. As talented as those two are, they aren’t blessed with pace.

At 28 years and 29 years, they might be at the peak of their powers, but against pace behind them, they’re as helpless as a headless chicken. 

East Bengal exploited that with the pace of Poojary and Willis Plaza in behind, and then Churchill Brothers following suit. Amrinder Singh might be a very good keeper, but a sweeper keeper he is not, and that is evident during the first goal conceded by the Blues.

This has been the team’s Achilles heel, with both Salam Ranjan Singh and Sandesh Jhingan, who are faster than the foreign duo are unavailable due to injury. The team even tried playing with a pseudo back three on occasions during the game, with Cameron Watson dropping between the centerbacks, but that, so far, has backfired badly.

Shoddy Recruitment

On Friday morning, when the news of Roby Norales moving to Ozone FC broke to the media, the collective response was of surprise. A statement released the club read something like this, “After a month of working closely with Roby, the staff felt that he doesn’t fit into the team’s plans. The club spoke with the player and both agreed that it would be best to loan him out to a club where he would get more playing time. Roby has been a thorough professional and we wish him the best of luck on his new stint”, which is basically smoke screen to point naysayers in the wrong direction.

To be honest, recruitment has been shoddy by Bengaluru FC this season, something the fans of the club weren’t used to at all. Sena Ralte, although coming at the back of a promising season with Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League, has been poor in games.

He was targeted by East Bengal, as most of their attacks came through the right. He was targeted by Chennai City FC, where Prashant (playing his first I-League season) repeatedly got the better of the Bengaluru FC right back. He also blatantly fouled Munther Abu Amarah in the box, which ultimately cost Bengaluru FC a shot at history.

Lenny Rodrigues, although has played very well, is not the player who will break the lines with his passing. He recycles the ball, and gets it back, but beside Watson, who also does exactly the same thing, his presence, especially against weaker teams, is curious.

Given that CK Vineeth is the only out and out striker in the squad with proper I-League experience, there is too much pressure for the man from Kerala to score. Add to that the fact that Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sunil Chhetri has also played much below the level they’re capable of, Bengaluru FC have a problem in their hands.

For Albert Roca and his coaching staff, it is time to get back to the drawing board. Boy can they do with a win against the impressive DSK Shivajians.