Greater than the sum of its parts

Carles Cuadrat’s Coterie Isn’t Devoid Of Stand-Out Talent. But Its Taken A Collective, Almighty Effort From Every Single Name On The Team Sheet To Pull The Blues Through Since The League Began. Miku Will Also Defend, Bheke Will Also Score and Gurpreet Will Also Assist. This BFC Is A Team In Every Sense Of The Term…

The first time it happened was during the sixty seconds of liberty that the boys get, once every training session on the eve of matchday. Once. Everything otherwise is usually cones, poles, ladders, three times two, eighty, ninety, one hundred percent intensity, precision and then rondos. But that wee window allows you to go mad. It’s liberating, in a strange way. Sunday in Kochi, with the media in attendance, wasn’t reason enough to censor the silliness. The cartwheels were rolling at one end and there was also an apology of a somersault somewhere else on the pitch.

Then suddenly, everyone froze, turned around and broke into an applause. Only Sunil Chhetri had his hands apart. In fact, he had them held up, in embarrassment. No, he hadn’t pinged one from 60 yards out on to the crossbar (throw in a wager and he does it at will. We know. We’ve paid up). He’d just run his boot through the ball to smash a window pane of a room at the training facility. We’d later find out that shattered remnants of glass and the ball, were both inside what was the dressing room of the Kerala Blasters.

A day and one half of the game later, the skipper would hold up his hands for a second time. More than just a window pane had been broken. Chhetri had put Bengaluru ahead in Kochi but the hosts found an equaliser after Nishu Kumar chose his birthday of all days, to concede a penalty that Slavisa Stojanovic smashed home. Outside, the young defender was being taken to the gallows. Inside the dressing room, his captain walked up to it instead. Chhetri borrowed a minute from the boss to own up. Sahal Abdul Samad, who Nishu brought down, was supposed to be Chhetri’s man who he took his eye off at the throw in. In football, like in life, the importance of seeing things in retrospect is often underrated. The apology was made, Nishu was absolved and there was a second half to win.

Chhetri owed Carles Cuadrat a minute and the boss seemed in a hurry to balance the books. As if on cue, all but one light tower at the JN Stadium chose to go bust at the stroke of half time. No amount of yellow in the stands would brighten things up, so out came the torchlights on the phones instead. The moment was meant for Chris Martin to croon ‘Sky Full of Stars’ from the speakers and the hands at the console obliged.

Amid all the panic to get the game started, an edgy press box where requests were being made over phone for deadline mercy and the crowd not tiring from waving their cellular phones long after Martin was replaced by one of those mindless electro medleys, a quick tête-à-tête was taking place under the spotlight of the one tower that didn’t betray its purpose. Sometimes, we fear that these ‘things we see when everyone else is looking the other way’ may be the subject of doubt. Imagine our delight when we found out that a photographer had captured the moment! (See picture above).

Cuadrat summoned Chhetri over, placed a hand on his shoulder and fired away an animated monologue where all his captain did was nod in return. “Mister said we had to play with an intent to win this game. And, that we needed to do whatever it took to leave Kerala with three points,” the captain would tell us later.

But while Chhetri may have done it literally, every player with the two-headed bird on their chest that night, raised their hands up – not in shame, not in apology, but to be counted.

In the days and weeks leading into the campaign, we struggled to hold a press conference or facilitate an interview that didn’t have questions about the departure of John Johnson and Subhasish Bose. With them, the Blues had conceded the least goals by any side in the League stage of the previous campaign. Who would blame the press for asking?

Nishu defended without any guilt or fear. Serran, showed yet again, why you’d never want to come up against him in an alley with a dead end. In playing the janitor’s role, Gurpreet has ensured that Bengaluru’s defence have little to worry about. Diving hard to his left, he denied Prashanth Karuthadathkuni the opener in Kochi, just like he did to deny Marcelinho a chance to shake the net in Pune and like he did to stop Everton Santos’ volley from creeping in at the near post for an equalizer at the Salt Lake Stadium. Juanan and Bheke like always, were loud without saying a word.

In his talk to the team at the training ground in Kochi, Cuadrat unambiguously asked everyone to have their war paint on, more so those on the bench. Kean Lewis, Rino Anto and Xisco Hernandez were summoned within ten minutes of each other in the second half and the way they affected the game will go unnoticed in most broadsheets, but not here. It was Kean’s interception that was fed through to the Spaniard before the latter’s give-and-go for the winner.

Dimas Delgado keeps taking his magic act on the road and the tent next to his belongs to Miku. We know you watched that turn that left a Serbian in knots, more than just once. Erik Paartalu does the dirty work with the kind of élan that not many with his frame would possess. Harmanjot Khabra, meanwhile, has forgotten what it is to be a right-back and in a good way that. We won’t brush Udanta Singh under the carpet. Cuadrat has come out saying the winger does exactly what’s asked of him and it’s only a matter of time before he has his goal. He almost had one on the night.

There have been more than just a few good men who have departed. But this is a team that has all hands on deck – Eddie included.

It took the staying down of a flag for the first and a bit of stomach from the opposition for the second, but the job had been done. The dressing room was bouncing when Chhetri relinquished a birth right of sorts. All the hands that had been raised up, were now on each other in a pile. Then, in what was a first in the traditional BFC post-game huddle, Nishu Kumar went, “one, two, three…” His comrades bellowed, “BFC!”