There Were Those With Few Minutes Under Their Belt, Then There Were Those With None. Wednesday Night In Jamshedpur Was Going To Be About Paying A Price For An Experience That Was Priceless…
Edmund Lalrindika drops deep to collect a pass from Ajay Chhetri. Turning towards a frame that was 35 yards away, he deploys a quick feint and a stepover, before pushing the ball past an oncoming defender. Now five yards outside the box, he unleashes one; a curler that hits the net at the bottom corner.
The kid volunteering to man the most ancient of scoreboards at the Bengaluru Football Stadium wishes he had chosen to go to school instead. He’s had to stand up for an eleventh time in the game to change the numbers under the letters BFC. He’s looking particularly at Lalrindika with anger. He enjoyed the striker’s hat-trick, but didn’t ask for a second one in the same game. The Blue Colts had won 11-0.
Bengaluru FC B steamrolled almost every opposition that had come in their path in the Puttaiah Memorial Cup and the BDFA Super Division League. Under coach Naushad Moosa, they had won both the trophies on offer and were a well-oiled unit. The Spanish love their siestas, but Carles Cuadrat never let the comfort of one get in the way of making it to the gallery at the club offices to watch the Colts play. Not once. If ever there was someone’s opinion on youth development that mattered the most, it was his. You don’t just stroll into La Masia.
In the dressing room on Wednesday, Edmund turned the pages on his Bible, where in Mizo he read through Psalm 37, a chapter that served as a silent prayer for the proverbial greener fields that he intended to find. Kick-off wasn’t far away.
‘Trust in the Lord and do good, dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’
While BFC B managed to do the local double in winning the League and Cup, the senior team had gained a sizeable lead on top of the Indian Super League table; one that allowed for a relatively younger side to play the final game of the campaign. An inheritance, of sorts.
Bengaluru travelled to Jamshedpur with just 15 players, seven of whom hadn’t started a game in the campaign; six hadn’t even played a single minute. Gerard Zaragoza stayed back to train the big boys in Bengaluru, as Carles Cuadrat put it simply for the press that gathered on the day before the game. Then there were some from among that lot who, like dutiful older brothers, answered the call to travel with the Colts with a smile.
“There are players in my squad who have been with us for over 150 training sessions, but haven’t played a single minute for the first team. I want to give them an opportunity to wear the BFC jersey and play in a competitive game. The good work of the team at the start of this season gives me a chance to do this.” The good work at the start of the season has allowed Cuadrat more than just a few luxuries and he makes it a point to remind everyone that this is a privilege they have earned.
He’s a man of few words, but as much as his adolescent side relished the experience of being on tour with the senior team, the Spaniard savoured the opportunity to watch and assess some of his younger crop on the big stage. A win-win, one might call it.
Bengaluru hadn’t taken a first half lead since the turn of the year and perhaps it was youthful adventure that earned it. Semboi Haokip pounced on a pass that the home side could have dealt with, before poking past Subrata Paul.
A flowing move on the counter then ended with Tiri slicing Lalrindika to the ground in the box. Penalty, Bengaluru. Up stepped Xisco Hernandez – only one of the two foreigners on the pitch and the squad, an ISL record if the men behind the microphone are to be believed. The Spaniard has been among the assists and this was his chance to get a goal for himself. But both, his conviction and the power behind the ball, were left wanting and Paul guessed correctly.
Nothing was expected, yet so much had been done right in a first half that ended with a blemish – a big one at that. Jamshedpur were allowed to claw back with seconds to the break and Cesar Ferrando may have just about tweaked the talk he was going to give his team.
They say when the storm hits home, the year feels like it has thirteen months on the calendar. Catastrophe, however needed only six second-half minutes to dent what was a resolute stand till that moment. We’re using the word dent, simply because the performance will be taken back to the workshop where it will be brooded over before the slow, yet sure process of hammering out the hollow will take place. Then there will be fresh coats of paint that will be left to dry. It’s a process. It always has been one. Jamshedpur orchestrated a four-goal blitzkrieg after which Gursimrat Gill picked up a second yellow to reduce Bengaluru to ten men. The storm and a year with thirteen months, remember?
Back in the dressing room, Xisco hung his head and Gursimrat knew that his chance of playing in the semifinal of the Indian Super League had been cut in half. Soram Poirei had had to pick the ball out of the back of the net five times and there was no way he had anything in the reserves to pick himself up. Parag Shrivas cleared a lump in his throat to bleakly admit that he had enjoyed the experience, despite the result. For a young side, a chance at the big stage had come and it had seemed as though they had faltered.
Luisma Villa hasn’t even spent a month in the country but the experienced Spaniard took to Twitter to talk about the night. ‘Very proud to play with these youngsters. They showed a good attitude and played well on the pitch. They have a bright future…” You could tell he meant every word of it. On the pitch, Luisma could have scored his first Bengaluru FC goal if it hadn’t been for a lay-off from Edmund that wasn’t needed. The youngster clutched his face, refusing to show any of it to his teammate. Luisma walked over and held the back of Edmund’s head in an act that had forgiveness, compassion and encouragement stamped all over.
Back in the dressing room, Cuadrat pulled his troops together, as he has in victory and in defeat, joy and despair. “It’s a chance to learn. We have travelled with a young team, and we have been competitive. A month ago, you won a game 11-0 and Edmund scored six goals. You have learned more in losing today, than winning on that day. You are all here because you are a part of this team, and together, we will now fight for a place in the final.”
He then turned to the man who had missed the penalty. “Xisco, I was a footballer and I have missed many penalties. It’s football, and we move on. Guru, I am sorry that you will miss the first leg of the semifinal, but you will keep working hard. Poirei, five goals today, it doesn’t matter. We go back and we keep training. Keep pushing Gurpreet.”
Nineteen-year-old Edmund had chosen the number on the back of his shirt to match the chapter from the Bible that meant the most to him. And in a corner of the away dressing room at the JRD TATA Sports Complex, the boy turned the pages to Psalm 37 once again, as the Blues trickled out and into the team bus.
‘The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.’