On 20th July 2013 when JSW launched Benglauru FC, little did they know that three and a half years later the club would go on to become a role model for other clubs in the country. Benglauru FC have achieved success both on and off the field and have become a trend-setter for in every respect. From winning I League in their debut season to wining the Federation Cup in their second to winning back the I League last season and to now reaching the finals of the AFC Cup 2016, Bengaluru FC have brought a smile on fans of the football fans at a time when the results for the national team have below par.
One thing that has stood out in Bengaluru’ s run in last three seasons or so is the way they have approached the signings of players and the team players be it the domestic players or the foreign players. While most I League clubs have been content on signing African or Latin American players playing in the South Asian or South East Asian leagues, it was Bengaluru who bucked the trend by signings of John Johnson and Curtis Osano – two central defenders who brought with them the experience of playing in the English League One. It was no surprise that for three years in a row the opposition strikers found it tough to breach the central defensive pairing of Johnson and Osano. Uptil Bengaluru came up, clubs mostly preferred to sign foreign players from other I League clubs rather than focus on bringing in new players.
Not just this Bengaluru FC have steadily gone on and improved their standards of foreign players. Johnny Menyongar was replaced by former English U-20 player Josh Walker in the heart of the midfield while Sean Rooney was upgraded to Kim Song-Yong in the third season. And when Ashley Westwood departed, Albert Roca brought in three new foreign players which included Spaniards Álvaro Rubio and Juan Antonio. Rubio, a former Spanish U-21 international brought with him the La-Liga experience while at 29 Juan Antonio was a definitive improvement over Curtis Osano. Cameron Watson, a former Aussie U-20 international and an A League regular was signed as the Asian player. The managment were also unprecedented when Ashley Westwood departed as they went on an roped in Albert Roca as the head coach. Roca has been the assistant coach at Barcelona and is the right person to build on the work done by Ashley Westwwod.
It has not just been about signing new and better players. The JSW backed club has followed the principle of retention of players very effectively. Sunil Chhetri, John Johnson, Keegan Pereira, Rino Anto, Beikhokhei Beingaichho and Vishal Kumar have been with the club since the inception. Chhetri, Johnson and Anto have been gone on to become vital cogs in the team and are almost definite starters in every match.
Bengaluru FC have followed a principle of scouting talented Indian players rather than the policy of running after big name players followed by the other I League clubs. The best example of this has been Eugeneson Lyngdoh who was signed by Bengaluru FC from Rangdajied United in 2014. Eugeneson had displayed his class in the I League for Rangdajied but it was at Bengaluru where he blossomed fully and went on to become by far the best central midfielder in the country. Eugeneson was deployed as a central midfielder and often a defensive one by Ashley Westwood but has been given a more offensive role by Roca and needless to say Eugeneson has strived in both roles. Such has been Eugeneson’ s rise that it is difficult to imagine the national team without him and the Indian Football fraternity would always be thankful to Bengaluru for bringing his talent to fore. Another example is that of Rino Anto who in 2013 was released by Mohun Bagan within a month of signing a new contract. Anto is now one of the best right backs in the country and has made it to the national team on basis of his impressive performances with Bengaluru FC. The likes of Lalchhuan Mawia and Keegan Pereira too owe their rise to prominence to the garden city club. Sunil Chhetri who has always been on the lookout for new clubs specially the foreign clubs and had changed seven clubs between 2008 and 2013 has settled down well at the club. A prime reason behind this is the professional and modern way way in which the club takes cares of it players.
The JSW backed side has also followed the principle of signing young players as is evident from their transfer dealings. Udanta Singh was signed by the club from the Tata Football Academy in 2014 and since then the young striker has gone on to play for the national team. In 2015 the club signed Malsawmzuala, Nishu Kumar and Daniel Lalhlimpuia from the AIFF Elite Academy and Nishu Kumar gave a good account of himself in the AFC Cup final. The club had in 2015 pre-season organized a couple of matches with the AIFF Elite Academy to scout the upcoming players. This is something that is rarity in Indian Football. In 2014 club roped in Lalchhuanmawia and Lalthuammawia Ralte aged 25 and 21 from Shillong Lajong. Seminlen Doungel, Amrinder Singh, Salam Ranjan Singh and Alwyn George all signed at the start of 2015/16 season were aged 22 or 23 and all four players have been coming up well at the club.
Apart from this the club has managed to strike a right cord with its fans. The players are seen interacting with the fans and with the West Block Blues which is the biggest fan group of the club. The club organizes away travels to Goa and Mumbai for their away I League matches and engages with the fans through social media with interesting set of videos and photographs. The BFC TV offers a complete match experience with pre match videos, match highlights and post match comments. The friends of BFC program where the club reaches out to other prominent sports persons is another way where club has managed to attract newer fans to the club. The program has seen the likes of Rohan Bopanna, Ashwini Ponnappa and Somdev Devvarman among others root for BFC on match days through social media. The latest addition to this club is none other than the French superstar Thierry Henry. The club has a well managed website and a merchandise section – something that not all I League clubs have. All this is something that was alien to Indian Football and Bengaluru FC has set an example with their effective fan management.
Bengaluru FC have shown how proper management can help achieve success both on and off the field. Within three years of their existence the club has created a fan-base in the city of Bengaluru FC something that not a lot of clubs beyond Kolktata and North-East have managed to do. Bengaluru have set the trend and laid down the marker for the clubs and if the other clubs can take lesson from this, it will help them achieve a success as well.