As the melodious sound of drums engulfed the Bangalore football stadium, it summoned all the football lovers to the astro turf laden grounds. It was not only a launch of a new football team by the JSW group, but it is also been described as a new dawn in Indian Football. After hiding in oblivion for decades, save institutional sides, the state of Karnataka is back with a team in the premier football league – Bengaluru FC. The team unveiled their logo, jersey and the squad in a football frenzy night in the heart of the IT capital of India. The launch was attended by all the top stakeholders including the Praful Patel, adding spark to the electric show on display.
Assimilating a squad from scratch, the JSW managed to rope in former Manchester United youth academy player Ashley Westwood to occupy the coach’s chair in their maiden Indian football season. 36 yr old Westwood kicked off his coaching career with Kettering Town, a club in the Southern League Division One Central, the eighth tier of English football. Prior to that, Westwood was appointed as assistant managers at clubs such as Blackpool, Portsmouth and Blackburn. (assistant to Michael Appleton). Along with signings of the national teams’ captain Sunil Chettri and striker Robin Singh, JSW also managed to convince a couple of players sprinkling the EPL flavor to mix of players assorted (missing from the above pic).
Squad – Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, John Johnson, Malemnganba Metei, Karan Sawhney, Gurtej Singh, Keegan Pereira, Darren Caldeira, Rino Anto, Bruno Colaco, Pawan Kumar, Don Bosco Andrew, Ricardo Cardozo, Lalrozama Fanai, Vishal Kumar, Kutty Mani and Thoi Singh.
The Yorkshire lad started his playing career with former Premier league side Middlesbrough academy where he was handpicked after trials as a teenager. He got his dream call for the senior team in summer of 2008. Johnson went on to make his premier league debut against Chelsea in 5-0 annihilation at the Riverside Stadium. That was the only appearance he made for the Smoggies.
He was then loaned out in the middle of the season to League One side Tranmere Rovers where he played four league games, including a famous victory over Leeds United. Next year, Johnson was roped in by League Two side Northampton Town on a loan spell, which soon snow balled into a permanent deal. Johnson played a total of 139 games for Northampton Town scoring 13 goals.
Bengaluru FC signed the center back from the same club at an undisclosed fee for the upcoming season. Westwood realized the importance of not leaking in goals, which quickly made his new team pursue Johnson, who was running out of contract for his old club. With his height (6 ft) and aerial prowess, he could turn out to be a very influential signing for the garden city club, not only at the back, but also from the set pieces.
The Kenyan born defender has signed the dotted line for the JSW backed side along with the John Johnson. Osano moved to England and as a teenager and soon joined the Reading Academy. He honed his skills under Brendan Rogers then and was cited as a vital youth product. In 2006, Osano made his debut for The Royals in a FA Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion and later played against Birmingham City. Soon the African experienced short loan spells in League One and Two sides – Aldershot Town and Woking. Soon the young Osano found his feet at Rushden and Diamonds, a fifth division side in England.
Curtis played three seasons at Nene Park before he moved to Luton town on another short term contract of one year. The tall defender played his last match in AFC Wimbledon colors before he jumped onto the Bengaluru FC bandwagon.
Almost all of the physically dominant defenders have been successful in the league and have usually made life difficult for I-League strikers. Both Curtis Osano and John Johnson would want their name to be added in that list soon. Both still very young (in their late 20’s), it will be interesting to observe how they cope up with the climate and humid conditions during full stretch of an Indian season. But the million dollar question is- Will this ignite a trend?, or is it just another case of importing foreign players, who are struggling with their deteriorating careers.