With new faces and a versatile squad, Carles Cuadrat optimistic of title defence

Carles Cuadrat believes that the most important signature secured ahead of the season was the one that lets Bengaluru FC play at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

Instead of an international pre-season tour this year, Bengaluru FC had one at Bellary.   -  K.Murali Kumar

No team has ever defended the Indian Super League title, but Bengaluru FC manager Carles Cuadrat isn’t keen on analysing that trend. 

“The term 'defending the title’ is a very English expression, because we don’t use that in Spain. Barcelona is now not defending the title, it is just one more team competing again to get that trophy. 

“For me, the idea is not to defend the title. We want to be competitive. We want to stay as consistent as possible, make the playoffs and then, of course, it is just three games away for the title and we will try our best to win it,” Cuadrat said at a media interaction in Bengaluru on Friday.

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“We want to keep working the way we have been working, but not feel the pressure. It's important to leave what happened behind you, because we saw what can happen with clubs that win the title,” he said.

Whatever the nomenclature, topping the league remains the ultimate objective as the team begins its campaign with a home match against NorthEast United FC at Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Monday. 

“We have been champions of the regular season for the last two seasons. We know how difficult it is to get it, we will now try to get it three times. It means a lot more this year with the Asian place (AFC Champions League qualifiers) going to the league winner, and that gives the guys more reason to fight for that spot,” he said. The table topper at the end of the league stage will qualify for the AFC Champions League this year. 

Cuadrat said he was happy with the composition despite the departure of star Venezuelan striker Miku. India winger Ashique Kuruniyan and former Osasuna striker Manuel Onwu were among the six new signings to reinforce the squad.

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“We lost Miku for half of last season, but we kept winning the matches. One of these players will be the next Miku. The quality of football may be different, but they are equally good,” he said.

“One of the good things about this club is that we have some players, well actually most of them, who can play in multiple positions. We saw this last season with Nishu, Bheke, Khabra and that gives me an added advantage going into the new season,” the Spaniard said. 

With the squad loaded with performers, it will be a tough ask for Cuadrat to fully utilise their potential, but he foresees no such trouble. “We are going to play three competitions (ISL, Super Cup and AFC), so there will be an opportunity to play for all the players. Through the season, as usual, there will be sanctions and injuries so everyone has to be ready for the season,” he said.

The team did not have an international pre-season tour this year, but Cuadrat made it clear he would have preferred the team to have a stint abroad. “We had really good work conditions in Bellary, but personally, I prefer to go to another country because the opponents and the conditions will be different.  But the calendar didn't permit it this season, because some of the teams were already in competition.

“Maybe now, with the partnership with Rangers FC, we could look at going to Scotland next year. Let’s hope for that,” he quipped.

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Cuadrat also expressed delight at playing in Sree Kanteerava Stadium after the uncertainty prevailing due to the opposition from the state’s track and field athletes and coaches. 

“With all due respect for my new players, the most important signature we got this season was the one that lets us play at Kanteerava. The importance of this city to this club can never be explained, and we are very happy that we get to play this season at a place we are proud to call home,” he said.