BFC: The ‘Ronaldo of Bhutan’ plays for them!

Anything less than a title in this year’s Indian Super League will be an underachievement for Bengaluru FC.

Livewire Chencho Gyeltshen (blue) was instrumental in Minerva Punjab FC winning the I-League last season.   -  BISWARANJAN ROUT

Supported by a legion of adoring fans who stand by the team whatever be the outcome, Bengaluru FC, considered one of the most professional clubs in India, has won two I-League titles, two Federation Cups and a Super Cup in its five years of existence. A seamless transition from the I-League to the Indian Super League last year saw the team dominate the league stage to top the table with a record 40 points, but it had to settle for a runner-up finish after a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Chennaiyin FC in the final.

Having retained most of its core players, including its star foreign signings like forward Venezuelan Miku (15 goals last season), midfielders Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado and central defender Juanan, the team will look to go one better this time.

RELATED| BFC - Change in coach, not philosophy

It has to, if it has to have a shot at the AFC Cup again. The team suffered a 5-2 aggregate loss to Altyn Asyr of Turkmenistan in the AFC Cup inter-zone play-off semifinals and lost its chance for direct entry to the Asian final. The club didn’t enjoy much success in the pre-season friendlies either.

Under new coach Carles Cuadrat, who took over the reins after Albert Roca decided not to return to India, Bengaluru FC began its preparation for the new season and the AFC Cup with a tour of Spain, but returned winless with losses to Atletico Saguntino (2-1), UAE Pro-League team Shabab Al-Ahli (5-1), Villarreal B (1-0) and Barcelona B (3-0).

ISL Fixtures at a glance

Cuadrat, who has earlier been part of Roca’s coaching team, insists all is well. “We had a very good pre-season where we came up against some quality opposition in teams like Villarreal B and Barcelona B. The results may not have gone our way but the players kept working positively on what was asked from them and that was encouraging. We worked hard defensively against the teams I mentioned and we did a good job of it. The pre-season games also allowed us to try new things in terms of the shape we play with and options in positions,” the Spaniard said.

RELATED|Chencho: 'India has one of the best football facilities'

The focus on defence is justified considering BFC probably possesses the best attack in the league. The front three of Sunil Chhetri, Miku and Udanta Singh have been terrific for the Blues. This year, the attack has been bolstered further by the entry of Chencho Gyeltshen, the youngster from Bhutan who played a stellar role in Minerva Punjab FC’s maiden I-League title triumph. It will be interesting to see the combination the new head coach chooses to open with.

In Gurpreet Singh Sandhu — he narrowly missed out on the golden glove last year — who is extending his stay till 2023, BFC has a safe pair of hands and he helped the team enjoy eight clean sheets last season. Anything less than a title in this year’s Indian Super League will be an underachievement for these consistent overachievers.

Player to watch

The team has some high-profile players like defender Albert Serran, striker Sunil Chhetri and midfielder Xisco Hernandez, but all eyes will be on Chencho Gyeltshen, who contributed seven goals and two assists to take minnow Minerva Punjab FC to its maiden title in the I-League last year. Fondly referred to as the ‘Ronaldo of Bhutan,’ the 22-year-old will be vying for a spot in an already lethal-looking front line of the BFC.

 

The Squad:

Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Aditya Patra and Soram Poirei.

Defenders: Albert Serran, Asheer Akhtar, Gursimrat Singh, Harmanjot Khabra, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Rahul Bheke, Rino Anto and Sairuat Kima.

Midfielders: Ajay Chhetri, Altamash Sayed, Bidyananda Singh, Chencho Gyeltshen, Boithang Haokip, Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, Xisco Hernandez, Kean Lewis and Udanta Singh.

Forwards: Miku, Sunil Chhetri and Semboi Haokip.

 

Carles Cuadrat, coach

Bengaluru FC has won a major trophy every season since its inception and that speaks a lot about the ambition of the club. The focus and goals are no different this season. We lost out on the ISL title in a painful manner and we want to be able to set that right. More importantly, winning the ISL will also mean we get to compete in Asian competition again and that will drive us.