ISL 2019-20: Miku-less BFC braces up for title defence

Bengaluru FC has retained much of its title-winning squad, with Miku the one notable exception. Can it become the first team to retain the title?

Raphael Augusto (left), a creative midfielder, has moved over to Bengaluru for the 2019-2020 edition.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Defending a league title is a hard task. No team has managed the feat in the Indian Super League (ISL) or in the I-League (since it was re-branded at the start of the 2007-8 season). Bengaluru FC was minutes away from doing it back in the 2014-15 season in the I-League, when Bello Rasaq’s last-gasp equaliser handed Mohun Bagan the crown. Maybe it is because teams find it hard to perform at a consistently high level year after year; perhaps it is because rivals catch up.

Either way, it is a challenge — one that the reigning ISL champion will hope to surmount when the new season begins. BFC has retained much of its title-winning squad, with Miku the one notable exception. The Venezuelan, who seemed to have a telepathic understanding with Sunil Chhetri on the pitch, and was an integral part of BFC’s success in the ISL, has left. It is a big blow but BFC will have to move on.

The club has signed six players in the off-season, including India winger Ashique Kuruniyan and the former Osasuna striker Manuel Onwu. BFC will look to Onwu, who is expected to start in the middle of a forward three that also includes Chhetri and Udanta Singh, to provide the goals.

Also on BFC’s roster this season is Raphael Augusto. The Brazilian was a star at Chennaiyin and should add a great deal of creative spark to BFC’s midfield. The squad is clearly deeper, and should serve BFC well as it tries to balance its AFC commitments with the ISL.

I’m happy with the situation. We were champions last season and I wanted to retain as much of that team as possible. But I also wanted to add new players that can give us something different. We have to go step by step and our first goal is to reach the play-offs. And then we think about the next three games.

— BFC head coach Carles Cuadrat