Indian football legend Sunil Chhetri labels the progress of Bengaluru FC, from being nowhere in the position of reckoning in December 2022 to where the Blues are today, as an “outstanding turnaround” that he hasn’t been part of in his 22-year football career.
Simon Grayson’s side were ninth in the ISL 2022-23 Standings and required a demanding run of victories and favourable results, for the Blues to seal a playoff spot. It was also at the back of the management’s mind that BFC had sixth and seventh-place finishes in the last two seasons, and the Blues desperately needed to make the season successful. Taking it in a match-by-match approach, Bengaluru FC put in a sterling show of belief as they stitched a 10-game winning run in 2023 to make it to the ISL final where they face ATK Mohun Bagan at Nehru Stadium, Fatorda in South Goa. The Kick-off is at 7:30 PM IST.
“What we have achieved as a team is outstanding. I have played for 22 years, and I have not been part of this kind of a turnaround. From where we were, if I am right, we needed six wins and two draws. Then, it was not enough, we needed seventh win…from there beating teams like Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City FC and reach the final, is outstanding. We are very proud of it, but all that goes out of the window.. It’s the final now, ” reflected India and Bengaluru talisman Chhetri.
English gaffer Grayson highlighted the belief that was shared by everyone in the camp. “I had the belief in myself that I was doing right things, I had the belief that the players would understand that we were taking the right steps for getting a result, and I also had the belief that the players could carry out the instructions to bring the right results,” he emphasised.
Chhetri revealed that there were moments in training where players like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Roy Krishna had lost their cool towards the end of last year. “It would have been easy to give up. But, no one of us gave up. Our reputation was on the line, national team call was on the line, so many things were on the line,” added the 38-year-old forward, who accepted the gaffer’s decision to play him from the bench with utmost professionalism saluted by Grayson himself.
“Leaving someone of his quality, experience and professionalism out is a really tough decision. But as a coach, regardless if it’s Sunil Chhetri or Rohit Kumar, I have to make what I think is the right decision,” said Grayson.
Blues custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu voiced his opinion, saying that it was “simplicity” that was the strength of the bunch as they bounced back. “We realised that we needed to keep things simple. If football is played simple, it’s effective,” said the 31-year-old India goalkeeper.
Bengaluru FC boast some of the most talented youngsters in Indian football, – Sivasakthi Narayanan, Naorem Roshan Singh, Rohit Kumar and Suresh Wangjam. Chhetri hailed the influence of the young brigade, saying: “The youngsters have been ensuring the tempo is kept very high in training. They pushed the envelope on us.”
Bengaluru FC found the right track as the seniors also brought their A-Game to the table over the last 11 games. Yet, Chhetri knows they haven’t won anything as yet. And what is the message that the players will take to bed, “Have no regrets,” is what Grayson continues to tell the boys. “When you look into the mirror the morning after the big game, you should feel that you could not have given anything more than you did!,” says the Blues head coach.