I-League champions Bengaluru FC announced the extension of contracts of chief coach Ashley Westwood along with central defenders John Johnson and Curtis Osano talking a giant step towards retaining their I-League title.
When Bengaluru FC was unveiled on 21st July,2013 ,little did anyone anticipate them to survive in the I-League, let alone emerge champions with a game in hand.On 28th May,2013 . JSW group had won the franchise rights for one of the teams of the two direct entry spots in the I-League. They launched the team officially as BENGELURU FOOTBALL CLUB , at the Bangalore football stadium on 21st July,2013 and promised to develop a youth academy and would try to build a better football infrastructure for the city.
They started preparation for their 1st season in the league ,with a series of signings which included midfielders Thoi Singh, Keegan Pereira , Johnny Menyongar ,Gurtej Singh and Goalkeeper’s Pawan Kumar , Bruno Colaco .On 16th July 2013 Bengaluru FC announced their first international signings , former Premier League and Middlesbrough defender John Johnson and former English Football League Two defender Curtis Osano. In August Bengeluru FC announced their final foreign player Sean Rooney to lead their attacking line-up ,alongside Indian captain Sunil Chhetri and former East-Bengal player Robin Singh.They appointed Ashley Westwood as their Head-Coach on 2nd July 2013. Since his appointment the former Manchester united youth player and the former Blackburn assistant manager has taken Bengaluru FC to new heights, making them the I-league champions in their debut season.
They started their campaign against Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and drew 1-1 , they went on to win their next 4 games and startled everyone with their amazing performances.East Bengal halted their progress, when they defeated Bengaluru FC 2-0 but they bounced back and gained momentum only to see their swift progress being stopped by East Bengal. These 2 matches would prove insignificant in the end , as they won the league winning 13 points from their last 6 matches.
They finished the league with 47 points (the lowest for a team emerging champions since Churchill Brothers in 2008-09 ,when they accumulated a total of 46 points) , 4 points better than 2nd placed Kingfisher East Bengal. Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri was adjudged the best player in the I-league and Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson the best defender in the I-League, at the AIFF awards. Ashley Westwood was also awarded the Coach Of the Season ,for leading his team to the I-League championship in their debut season by AIFF.
The defensive pairing of John Johnson and Curtis Osano has been pivotal for the success of Bengaluru FC. Not only have they been a wall at the back for their team , but John Johnson has scored some very important goals to give his team all 3 points ( scored against Rangdajied United FC to give bengaluru the lead, scored the winner against United SC and against Mohammedan SC). John Johnson was awarded the best defender in the I-League by AIFF and Curtis Osano was named as the Player’s Player of the Year by Bengaluru FC players.
The contribution of Ashley Westwood has been immense throughout the season. The club needed a figure who could organize the aspects of the team and make it run like a European club and Ashley Westwood has left no stone unturned to make that dream a reality .He was in charge of everything at the club from the diet to the teamsheet, he introduced sports-science into his assessment and did an amazing job with his young squad. When Bengaluru FC defeated Dempo to win the I-League on 21st April 2014,he wrote another chapter in the history of Indian Football, by becoming the youngest manager to win the I-League at the age of 37.He has been brilliant tactically , shifting Chhetri to the left side of attack to accommodate Sean Rooney and Robin Singh in the right has paid dividends with the attacking trio of Sunil Chhetri, Sean Rooney and Robin Singh of Bengaluru FC combining well and scoring a massive 29 goals among themselves in the league .Sunil Chhetri led the scoring charts with 14 goals, the highest in the league.
With the season done and dusted, Bengaluru FC on 6th May 2014 extended the contract of 2nd highest goalscorer Sean Rooney for another year . With speculation rife about foreign clubs being interested in the services of Head Coach Ashley Westwood and fans being frightened about a downfall, Bengaluru fc acted fast and on June 24th ,2014 extended the contracts of Ashley Westwood alongw ith both the central defenders John Johnson and Curtis Osano till the end of the 2015-16 season.
We have seen numerous times , teams after changing coaches going downhill with the demise of Churchill Brothers the most recent case. Churchill went from being champions in the 2012-13 season to 12 th in the 2013-14 season after parting ways with coach Subhash Bhowmick. With the core of the Bengaluru FC team almost same and now with the future of the head coach and their defensive pairing sorted, the fans will look forward to yet another amazing campaign from the team.With the team set to make its debut in the AFC Cup this year , it was essential that the team holds on to their star players. Not only will their quality help the team in crunch matches in the continent, but their experience will help the team get the best out of the younger players in the squad.
John Johnson has experienced nights where has been a part of a Northampton Team, that famously defeated Liverpool FC at Anfield. He has abundance of experience ,to show that it is not necessary for the underdogs to lose and Bengaluru FC will hope that he uses his experience in the upcoming season and passes it on to the junior players at the club. Curtis Osano and Sean Rooney who all have been a part of big matches, knows what it takes to grind out results and the club are hopeful they can help them in their quest for a good campaign both domestically and in the continent. Sunil Chhetri with his experience playing in the MLS and in Portugal ,should be vital for the club’s push for glory. Ashley Westwood has already become a fan favourite at Bengeluru, by making them I-League champions and is hopeful he can go on and achieve more success during the next 2 years.
The club definitely needs to strengthen their squad as matches in Asia along with the I-League are bound to have some casualties and with midfielder Johnny Menyongar released by the club, midfield is an area where Ashley Westwood would be likely to add more reinforcements.Squad players will have to step up, when required and they will be required at a particular time due to the hectic schedule and Westwood will hope that his star players don’t have a long injury lay-off. Overall Bengaluru FC fans have a reason to be Optimistic ahead of the new season which sees them make their debut in Asia; The current I-League champions at this point only look to move in one direction and that is forward.
Written By THT Guest Author Boudhayan Sarbajna