Nightmare in the 90s

Friday Night In Hyderabad Played Out A Little Horror Show By Bengaluru FC Standards. It Was One Carles Cuadrat Admitted He’s Seen Enough Times Through His Career, To Have Left Him Shocked.  It Was Also One, The Sequel Of Which He Wants His Boys To Script Differently…

There were three minutes and a little more on the clock when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was caught by a reckless lunge from another Singh, Robin, that left the Bengaluru ’keeper needing medical attention. The Blues were a goal to the good and the Indian Super League standings were being rejigged for television, social media platforms and newspapers. The current champions would be the new leaders for the first time this season.

Yards away, Carles Cuadrat used the breather to turn to his assistant Oriol Lozano and goalkeeping coach, Javi Pinillos. Between the three of them, they had seen enough football to quickly agree that if Bengaluru didn’t get a second goal, there was no telling what would happen. ‘We were just a bunch of old hands sharing the feeling that this wasn’t done yet,’ Cuadrat would tell us later. A goal did come, but it didn’t belong to Bengaluru. Forlorn and frustrated as he waited his turn to honour broadcast obligations, the boss’ assessment of what had just unravelled didn’t stretch beyond a line. ‘I’ve seen this movie before.’

All the pre-game talk in the Bengaluru camp revolved around building on the winning momentum that team had begun stitching, with wins over Chennaiyin and Kerala. And they hit the ground running at the GMC Balayogi Stadium.

Chhetri in a retail store is as comfortable as Bambi on ice. Which is why, when his wife’s birthday coincided on matchday, the skipper wasted no time in letting the lady know he would use the back of the net to wrap her little gift on the night. And he did it in the time it would take to sing an extended rendition of ‘happy birthday’, complete with the ‘old friends and new/good luck go with you’ routine.

So much prose has been poured on moments when Bengaluru are with possession. Of course, all of it is warranted. But you can tell great teams from good ones by what they do when they don’t have the ball at their feet. With the game in just its second minute, Gurtej Singh was sure about the pass he played back to his goalkeeper. It reached his man, alright. But there was a big problem, or should we say, a fast one. Udanta Singh decided he still wanted to chase the ball, because, well, he can.

In a show of needless valour, Kamaljit Singh took a touch – a wrong he soon attempted to make right with a clearance that has just enough conviction to get to Laldanmawia Ralte. But Bengaluru had sniffed panic. Raphael Augusto got close enough to whisper into Ralte’s ear and the Mizo defender completed a triangle of errors when his weak pass to no one was collected and finished by Chhetri.

Hyderabad had been sucker punched even before the ring announcer could sell the contest to the arena. Bengaluru, who have vowed to plant six trees every time they put the ball in the back of the net this season, looked like they were in the mood to lay the foundations for a forest that night. Phil Brown’s men, meanwhile, had lost the will to compete. The dagger had been driven in. But when there was just the one way to twist it, Bengaluru were keen on reinventing the wheel.

He’s always been one for company at his table, so when Chhetri thought he had his fill, he wanted to make sure Raphael gets a slice of the pie too. The Brazilian looked like making most of the largesse, yet kept dropping the fork every time the morsel looked like making its way to his mouth. Selfishness would have been a virtue that night, but Chhetri struggled to believe it.

Hyderabad should have been six feet under, twenty-five minutes into the game. And maybe six more feet deeper around the hour-mark when they were reduced to ten-men after Sahil Panwar was sent for a shower he hadn’t sweated enough to earn. This was kamikaze with zero gains.

In Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood’s American boxing classic from 2004, Maggie Fitzgerald [Hillary Swank] secures a million-dollar fight with Billie ‘The Blue Bear’ Osterman – a dirty fighter with a reputation that precedes her. [We’ll circle back to the ‘dirty fighter’ bit later in this piece.] Billie throws an illegal punch that catches Maggie unawares. Maggie’s fall is broken by her neck hitting an oddly-placed stool, leaving her paralysed.

Merely existing on a life-support system and with a leg she later has to amputate, Maggie bites her tongue in a bid to bleed to death. Frankie Dunn [Eastwood] – her mentor, father-figure and pretty much everything – finally succumbs to Maggie’s plea of ridding her of her misery, injects her with a dose of adrenaline and pulls the plug on the ventilator.

Bengaluru needed someone to do a Frankie Dunn on Hyderabad that night. Instead, Robin Singh – with the one foot that Hyderabad were standing on – stabbed home the equaliser seconds before the Blues were to take pole position for the first time this season.

It’s a good thing glass bottles have no place on a football pitch or the dressing room. And while there were a few of the plastic variants flying around and bouncing off the race track around the dug-out, minutes after the game, Raphael Augusto was dealing with the aftermath by way of a self-induced coma. The Brazilian who blinked every time he had to line up his shot on goal, couldn’t shift his gaze from an abyss that seemed to have cast a spell on him. He had to be held by the shoulders and given a little shake before he snapped out from whatever it is that had him, and joined the rest of the team to applaud the traveling fans.

Full of remorse, Augusto paid no heed to what was literally a dent in his shin with a steady stream of blood flowing down. Hyderabad should have finished the game with nine men. Bengaluru might not have had their Frankie Dunn, but the hosts sure had their Billie ‘The Blue Bear’ Osterman in Marcelinho. Late finishes will always have a place in football. Late challenges that are dipped in malice, not so much. Augusto’s wand came away with a little damage, on another day, it could have snapped in two.

A pall of gloom enveloped the team hotel later that night, and Kenny G on his saxophone wasn’t doing a great job of soothing any moods. Yet again, Bengaluru had shared points with a team that deserved none. But this one was squarely on the Blues, and the dressing room was brave enough to admit it.

As the team readied to depart the hotel the morning after, a handful fans turned up at the reception. More long faces to add to the ones exiting in uniforms. Yet, they were there. The players said silent thank yous with not-so-firm handshakes. Then Cuadrat went over, told them he was sorry – in as many words – and that their support will always mean a lot. No tactical explanations, no excuses, no throwing his boys under the bus. Just a simple apology that held the promise of a movie that will end differently.