Sunil Chhetri: Defensive stability won Bengaluru FC the ISL

Bengaluru FC's defence nullified top-scorer Ferran Corominas in its three matches against FC Goa, and the club captain attributes the title win to solid defending.

Sunil Chhetri has turned his attention to conquering Asia and AFC Cup after winning a maiden Indian Super League title.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

Sunil Chhetri has amassed several trophies during his long and illustrious career, and on Sunday, the Bengaluru FC (BFC) star added a maiden Indian Super League (ISL) title to the collection. It was a particularly sweet triumph, given that his team had fallen at the
final hurdle, to Chennaiyin FC, in the previous edition.

The 34-year-old, obviously in great spirits, spoke at the Bangalore Football Stadium here on Monday.

Read: Bengaluru FC: A lesson in professionalism in Indian football

Excerpts

Q: Defence won BFC the trophy

A: To minimise the threat posed by a great striker like (FC Goa’s) Ferran Corominas is testimony to the brilliant defence we had. Coro scores goals for fun, but he had no shots on target against us in the three games we played this season. Our defence was organised and strong, which won us the trophy.

Q: Rahul Bheke – a BFC legend

A: When you have a leakage in the bathroom, you use an adhesive to fix it. That’s Rahul Bheke for us. He’s played as left-back, right-back, stopper-back, he has defended goals, and he has scored goals. The poor guy doesn’t even know where he is going to play. He plays on the left, right and then suddenly he is the stopper-back, facing the likes of Corominas. He is a leader, even though he doesn’t speak much. He is our (Franz) Beckenbauer. Bheke is slowly turning into a club legend. It’s a shame he isn’t in the Indian team yet.

Q: Comeback win over a strong NorthEast United FC in the semifinal

A: NorthEast United FC is one of the toughest opponents. They have proper game changers in (Federico) Gallego, Bartholomew (Ogbeche) and Rowllin Borges. (Jose David) Leudo creates everything in the midfield. Our ex-goalkeeper Pawan (Kumar) was also doing very well. We actually took the 1-2 loss in the first-leg as a good result, because I had no doubt about getting a 1-0 win at our fortress — the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

But let me tell you, we were nervous going into the second leg, because NorthEast United FC knows how to play, and they have a very decent coach who understands everything.

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From left: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh pose with the ISL trophy.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

 

Q: Asia - the next frontier

A: Asia is right there in our agenda. I am truly obsessed about Asia and the AFC Cup. We have won the ISL — a big trophy — but our agenda was clear from the start. We wanted to win the ISL in order to play in Asia. Everyone from the owner to the players had this in mind. We have created a small niche for ourselves in Asia. I hope we can go one better this time [having finished a finalist in 2016].

READ | Bengaluru 'hungry' to win Super Cup, says Chhetri

Q: Change in ISL format

A: The best team at the end of 18 weeks of league matches should be called the national champion. If not that, at least give the league stage topper an AFC Cup spot. I agree that the semifinal and final is exciting and makes for great television – so go ahead and keep that format. Hypothetically speaking, say FC Goa smashes everyone and gets 48 points, while BFC finishes fourth with 26 points. The way things stands now, both BFC and FC Goa have equal chance to represent India in Asia. That’s not right, because if the best team has just one bad night (in the semifinal or final), it the fourth best team that enters the AFC Cup.

Q: Doubts over BFC using Sree Kanteerava Stadium

A: We anyway don’t train at Sree Kanteerava Stadium anymore. We only need it for around 30 days to play our matches. We cannot not play at Sree Kanteerava Stadium.