There is never a final whistle

Carles Cuadrat Isn’t One For Superstitions And Won’t Accept His Side Being Termed ‘Lucky’ To Be On Top Either, But What He Will Do Is Give Praise Where It Is Deserved…

Just a little after the last set of fans trickled out of the stands to a far less organised beating of drums, Carles Cuadrat and Gerard Zaragoza made the long walk back to the dressing room. Before they would fade down the tunnel, Zaragoza had a quick jog to the East Lower A stand where an outstretched hand through the fence was waiting to pass something on to the Blues’ assistant coach. This happened at the end of the 1-1 draw against Mumbai City FC on Sunday. It happens after every game.

At the other end of the transaction is Alwin Lawrence, the team analyst for the last six seasons and it’s a pen drive he passes on to Zaragoza. Work on the next opponent begins on the same night. What if the next game is eighteen days away? Work still begins on the same night.

Meanwhile, in the dressing room, the boys haven’t yet peeled off their sweaty stockings when Senen Fernandez is closing medical appointments for the next day. Mikel Guillen has his list of who will hit the gym next morning and what they’re going to do, down to the last rep. Javi Pinillos is confirming the schedule of his English speaking class for Monday morning. The big man from Santander wants to be able to convey everything flawlessly to his goalkeepers and if it means going back to school at 49, he’ll do it. Indian assistant, Naushad Moosa is leading Bengaluru B in a BDFA Super Division game on Monday afternoon and he’s engaged in conversation with Cuadrat who forgets that he’s just finished managing an intense game minutes ago.

The result may have kept an unbeaten run going, but it wasn’t the one his side had hoped for – all the more because Mumbai were a man short for forty full minutes. There was work to be done. There always is.

In what was a pre-game press conference like none before, the boss wanted to clear the air about a quote attributed to him – one that he vehemently denied having said. It involved Cuadrat calling his team ‘lucky’ with all the late goals to grab points. His boys had been fighting from kick-off until full time and Bengaluru’s position atop the table was in no way cradled by fortune. Cuadrat, leaving his composed self for a moment, maybe two, called for respect towards the profession of those who worked alongside him behind the scenes.

Matchday arrived and Bengaluru had a tough task ahead of them. In what the coach had billed an ‘accident of the calendar’, the Blues would face a second-placed team for the third time this season, albeit with a home advantage for once. With the voices of thirteen thousand people in the stands, Sunil Chhetri walked his side out for battle.

Udanta Singh respects Sunil Chhetri far too much to make his captain sound like a liar to the press. Chhetri had come out in defence of the winger during a barren patch of six games without a goal by proclaiming that once Udanta started scoring, he wouldn’t stop. Watching Rahul Bheke get to the ball on the left, Udanta raised his hand asking the defender to delay the cross by a bit. He was going to leap once and it had to be perfect if he was going to have to beat Lucian Goian to it. He did.

He’d been at Bengaluru all of two seasons and a bit more, but Amrinder Singh wasn’t privy to Udanta scoring with his head. Flash would later tell us that it was his first headed goal since his teenage days at the TATA Football Academy.

Modou Sougou had scored the equalizer in the meanwhile, sneaking between the tight Bengaluru lines at the back. It was the only lapse they would have in the game. Dimas Delgado’s touch, turn and feint had Sehnaj Singh caught unawares, and then off for an early shower. Somewhere, Bengaluru sniffed a winner.

For the best part of forty minutes, BFC threw the sink, stove and anything more they had at the Mumbai backline, but couldn’t find a way through. Amrinder knew how to dive hard to his right to stop Chhetri’s long drive and Subhasish Bose kept track of Udanta’s whereabouts like an obsessed lover. The skipper’s unforgiving stare was in itself a compliment to the save and Udanta shook hands with Subhasish at the whistle. More than a few men in gold knew some of the Blues all too well.

Bengaluru may have missed the guile of a Venezuelan who was making his way to the Copa Libertadores final with a strapped ankle five thousand miles away. But with more personnel and possession, something that was known to give way on most occasions didn’t. And true to his word, Cuadrat minced very little of his vocabulary as he praised Jorge Costa’s side.

“Sometimes it is tougher against ten men. Mumbai played very well today and we have to congratulate them because they worked hard. They defended and tried to catch us exclusively on the counter. We tried different things, but sometimes, in football, this is how it is,” he said.

He then walked to the dressing room, gathered the boys around and started with a little story. “When I was with the El Salvador national team, we were watching a semifinal of the league. A team was down to nine men and trailing by two goals. In the 94th minute it ended 2-2 and the team with eleven were knocked out. Sometimes a red card can help a team than do more damage. This was one of those games. We will be better on another day.”

The boys, who are usually put through video sessions of the game the next day, were handed a slightly different instruction this time. “We’re off tomorrow, but I want all of you to watch the River-Boca game tonight. You’ll see what intensity is all about.” With Cuadrat, everything doesn’t have to always be tactical. The heart plays a big role in the way this team functions and he’d suggested the best video session he could.

Meanwhile, every little piece of paper on his table at the BFS has field diagrams, numbers and arrows pointing in several directions. Pictures of trophies being lifted, delirious supporters and clippings from championship winning seasons are pinned to his board. There are no four-leaf clovers, goldfish or horseshoes in his room. There is, though, a whistle that he puts around his neck every morning.

There is never a final whistle.

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