BFC coach Roca: 'My team is still growing'

The new I-League season begins on Saturday, with BFC meeting Shillong Lajong at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca.   -  Sudhakara Jain

It has been barely two months since Bengaluru FC's historic run to the final of the AFC Cup, but head coach Albert Roca is taking nothing for granted as his men embark on a fresh season of football. “It was just a final,” he said here on Tuesday. “It was hard to be there and we travelled a long way. But it's not that everything is done. My team is still growing. We have to show again that we can compete and win the I-League again.”

The new I-League season begins on Saturday, with BFC meeting Shillong Lajong at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here. A string of injuries, though, has left Roca slightly concerned, with Lalchhuanmawia Fanai (out for one month), Rino Anto (six weeks), Gursimrat Singh (one month), Lalthuammawia Ralte (three months), and Salam Ranjan Singh (one month) all out of action. “It's unfortunate because we cannot prepare the team the way we want,” the Spaniard said. “We have seven games in less than a month, including the AFC Champions League. There were not many days of pre-season because players came from the ISL. Some of them still have their minds there. We have to snap out of that and manage as best we can.”

Roca lamented the nature of the AFC Champions League, which requires BFC to win two single-legged knock-out fixtures for a place in the competition's group stages. The first hurdle is an away tie against Jordanian club Al Wehdat SC on January 31. “It’s a shame because it's only one game, away, and if we lose we are out,” said Roca. “It’s the style of the competition — like it or not. It’s a shame because we deserve at least to compete with other teams there, to know if we are good enough.”

This I-League season will be a first taste of Indian competition for the head coach, who only joined BFC in July. “It’s new for me too. I can only look at videos of our opponents to see how they play. It's not easy (to study opponents in the I-League). All the teams make a lot of changes. Shillong has different foreigners, Brazilians whom we’ve never seen before. It’s going to be tough, I’m sure,” he said.

The absence of the excellent Alvaro Rubio will be felt in central midfield, although BFC has acquired five new players – Lenny Rodrigues, Mandar Rao Desai, Harmanjot Khabra, Sena Ralte, and Arindam Bhattacharya – over the last month. “We will play like we did in the past (keeping possession). It will be difficult because we lost Alvaro Rubio,” Roca admitted. “I hope we will not miss him too much. He was a player who made the others better. It’s not going to be easy but we have to adapt. I would like to have Iniesta and Xavi keeping the ball in control but it's not possible.”