Chhetri: No room for rigid systems

The transition between competitions that are very different from one another can be tough. The AFC Cup was about two legs at a time, then two more and then the one-off final as opposed to the ISL, where the fixtures are a lot tighter.

Diego Forlan of Mumbai City FC celebrates after scoring a goal against Kerala Blasters in an ISL match. "To watch him finish is an education of sorts and I'm only happy to learn," says the columnist, Sunil Chhetri.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

November has been a rollercoaster of a month, and I would like to do a rewind of sorts. Through my last few columns, I have had the chance to take you aboard Bengaluru FC’s amazing journey in the AFC Cup. We defied the odds and battled our way through to a place where no Indian club has been before — the final of a continental competition.

 

We squared off against Iraq’s Air Force Club (Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya) and I have no qualms in admitting that we fell short on the day and were beaten by a better team. However, we threw everything we had at them. And as disappointed as we are, the effort or the lack of it was never the reason we lost. That said, it was surreal to see the way the nation rallied around us right from the semifinal. We had so many messages, tweets, banners and posts wishing us the best. And our defeat in the final didn’t change the kind of pride these people felt after we made it to the title round. Bengaluru’s AFC Cup run will always be special and I am confident that it will spark a strong revival of Indian football.

Away from Qatar and much closer home, I joined my ISL club, Mumbai City FC. The other lads from Bengaluru FC, too, joined their respective ISL clubs. Our AFC Cup commitments meant we missed most of the league phase of the ISL and had to dive right into the competition. It can be tough, this transition between competitions that are very different from one another. The AFC Cup was about two legs at a time, then two more and then the one-off final as opposed to the ISL, where the fixtures are a lot tighter. You don’t really have time to reflect on a win or a defeat because before you realise it, you either are hosting a team or are travelling to play away from home. One look at the standings and you will realise that the margin for error is very less, given the gap between teams on the points table.

Like I said, switching modes is not easy, but is one of the demands of modern day football. I have been fortunate enough to be involved with the game long enough to adapt to situations like these quicker. You are moving to a new city with a new set of team-mates, a new coach and a completely new system. But it’s not like you have a choice! Besides you learn along the way and that is exactly what I told a few of the younger boys in the team when this came up during discussion a while ago. You have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times and shed the rigidity of systems that you are used to.

That said, the Bengaluru FC boys have managed to make up for lost time, and in style! Vineeth scored three goals in two games for Kerala Blasters; Eugene scored a late winner of his own for Pune City FC, and it was nice to see young Malsawmzuala on the score-sheet in the high-scoring game between Delhi Dynamos and FC Goa the other night. It goes to show how quickly they have switched gears and are getting the job done for their teams.

I am yet to get on the score-sheet, but that doesn’t worry me at all. It will start bothering me when I’m not working hard in my pursuit of a goal which is far from what is happening. However, the team will always be the bigger picture and, as it stands, we are exactly where we wanted to be at this stage — on top of the points table.

Mumbai City FC have been looking good and it’s nice to see everyone bringing something to the table, which is what makes leading the table even nicer. We played to an almost packed Mumbai Football Arena on November 19, and it was fantastic to come away with a 5-0 win over Kerala. It was also good to see Diego Forlan score a hat-trick. To watch him finish is an education of sorts and I’m only happy to learn. He is a great guy off the pitch too and he refuses to let his aura build a wall between him and the rest of the squad.

Away from the pitch, I managed to step out of the team hotel and explore a bit of Mumbai. I hit one of the Parsee food joints that I had heard so much about and indulged in a little bun-maska and chai, which I could get used to! I capped my little adventure with a nice train ride to Lower Parel and I must say I’m impressed with the amount of time it saves you given the traffic in the city! I even managed to catch up on the highlights of the big games that weekend — United versus Arsenal, Dortmund versus Bayern, Atletico versus Real and finally the Milan derby.