The Venezuelan Left His Usual Prose For Later When He, Watched By Twenty Thousand In The Stands, Scored Arguably The Best Season-Opening Strike The Blues’ Faithful Had Ever Seen…
For all the countdowns that preceded it, it wasn’t kick-off that had Bengaluru FC versus Chennaiyin FC underway. Santosh Kumar’s whistle-to-mouth action may have signalled the start of what was a cracker of a match, but this was a game that had begun long ago, before a swarm of Chennaiyin supporters had stormed Gate C of the Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday, and much before Carles Cuadrat had put pen to paper as Head Coach of the Blues. This was a game that began when a final whistle in the middle of March saw white shirts peppered with gold dust bounce in a huddle, while the forlorn warriors wearing blue crumbled in a heap where they stood, hoping that the enormity of the Fortress would swallow them whole.
To the right of the Media Tribune they sat, with their banners and flags, singing a song that the West Block Blues mastered and chorused. And as much as Cuadrat tried to play down the significance of the moment, it wasn’t lost on both sets of supporters and a Venezuelan striker. Hair held back by a band, he raced down the touchline with his hands to the side of his head, celebrating a strike that had the overload of oomph that an opening goal at the Fortress has lacked over the last four years.
It isn’t alien to him – scoring bangers; in fact, it’s an art he has mastered over the course of his career. Pictures of most his strikes have defenders biting the turf and colliding with each other (he once had Ricardo Carvalho and Marcelo in splits with the ball nestling in the bottom corner past Iker Casillas), but last night he went for the conventional.
The chops and flicks had been tried and tested, and when Xisco slid it through to him with five minutes left for the break, Miku snatched it and slapped it home hard. It was far from the poetry that the Venezuelan is known for, but it had the stands singing anyway. Slipknot and Sinatra can both take you places. There were twenty thousand people watching, but the three fingers he lifted as he ran over to the VIP box, were for each of his daughters.
From the stands watched Dimas Delgado, missing a game he would kill to be a part of; one he hobbled out of the last time he played a competitive game of football. But he knew more than to just mope. His was the first message on the morning of the game to everyone on the squad, asking them to get the season off to the right start.
But with Harmanjot Khabra reminding all of us about him being a midfielder by trade and Erik Paartalu sitting deep to connect defence and attack, the Blues barely even stuttered.
The occasional moment of uncertainty came at the back; defensive lapses that came in the form of unforced errors. But, as Cuadrat would go on to say more eloquently in his post-match press conference, it was more about the occasion than the player itself. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was gliding six feet above everyone else, plucking every ball in the box, out of thin air. Then there was debutant Albert Serran, whose visa stamp is yet to dry, but who looked like he had been playing alongside Juanan since they were little boys.
As the matchday programme suggested, Udanta was the king of the flanks and had it not been for a moment of generosity from Kumar with the cards in his pocket, Jerry Lalrinzuala could have been on his way for an early shower after bringing the Flash down. Some might say it was too far away from goal for marching orders, but what really is far away for Udanta?
There was no pile-up on the touchline or post-game razzmatazz this time, but it had been a match worthy of an opener. It was a little more than just the perfect start. Cuadrat had broken the Chennaiyin jinx at the Fortress, won his first game as Blues’ Head Coach and his side reminded John Gregory why he would not have chosen Bengaluru FC at the Fortress to begin their title-defence.
It is a marathon, and the dressing room knows this more than just well. But there’s no rule about first steps not being cheered or cherished.