- VOL: 2
- MAT. NO.: 9
Bengaluru FC vs Hyderabad FC
7:30 pm IST
Good evening everyone,
It’s amazing how quickly time passes by when you have points to play for. All the while we were gearing up for our season opener. And before we know it, we’re ready for our second game. I think it must have to do with just how much we have missed our sport.
I must admit, it was a strange feeling to play in an empty stadium, especially one that has never been short of noise and away support. But the game quickly soaks you in and that helps. Like so many things, this will take some getting used to.
Today we take on Hyderabad FC at ‘home’ in what I am certain will be an interesting and a tough fixture. We played them last season and then in a pre-season friendly and you can see that they have done well for themselves with all the additions to their squad over the summer. This includes bagging the signature of coach Manuel Márquez who I know from my days in Barcelona. However, we will be focusing on what we can do to get the result we want on the night.
We have had another week of training and a lot of hard work has gone into the sessions. More importantly, it’s another week of inching closer to full fitness for the boys who had to join the squad and training later than the others. We have some fantastic options this season from our squad and the sooner they are able to hit their full potential physically, the better we will get as a team.
On things non-football, we are slowly beginning to adapt to life in the bio-bubble. Our day is divided between the first floor of the team hotel and the training facilities. Everything else is out of bounds. But the spirit and atmosphere within the team is fantastic. I hope all of you are keeping safe and are managing to stay in touch with the team through all our digital spaces. Keep your date with your television screens tonight and let’s look to get the three points in the bag!
Up in the air
It will be a battle to exert physical supremacy on both ends of the pitch tonight. The Blues’ backline should be marshalled by Juanan, who never shies from a battle. And he, along with whoever partners him, will have to be on their A-game as the visitors’ attack is led by the formidable Aridane Santana. Against Odisha FC, Santana won balls in the air and came close to scoring twice with well-taken headers. The 31-year-old took more shots at the goal than anyone on the pitch in Hyderabad FC’s first game and was clever enough to set up the move that won them the match-winning penalty.
The Blues’ Gonzalez duo - Juan and Fran , and later Pratik Chaudhari on as a substitute against FC Goa, are the only centre-backs (apart from NorthEast United’s) to go through the motions without giving away a single foul. They were also very tidy in possession, always looking for the right pass from the back rather than a hasty clearance, ranking second from the bottom for clearances in the League so far.
At the other end, whoever leads the line for the home side could look to impose themselves in the box. At 6’ 2”, both Kristian Opseth and Deshorn Brown will have a few inches on Joao Victor, Odei Onaindia and Adil Khan. While neither striker got on the scoresheet in the opening game, it was their presence in the box that made space for the goals. Opseth’s run and attempt to get to a loose ball unlocked space in the box for Cleiton to head home. And in the second half, it was Deshorn Brown’s header that helped Erik Paartalu set up Juanan for his strike.
The midfield scrap
As with most games, the battle in the middle of the pitch might dictate how the teams will fare. In the Blues’ opening game, Erik Paartalu and Suresh Wangjam - aided by Ashique and Udanta Singh - covered every blade of grass in the middle of the pitch as they helped the team both in defence and attack.
For Hyderabad FC, it is the trio of Lluis Sastre, Hitesh Sharma and Mohammed Yasir that try to get things moving in the midfield. They particularly look to Sastre for making things happen, with the Spaniard having significantly more touches of the ball and more passes than anyone on the pitch in their game against Odisha FC.
Sparks of brilliance
While both teams will be led by imposing strikers tonight, it is the creative brains behind them that could set the stage alight.
While the Blues’ new Brazilian import opened his, and the team’s, account for the season against FC Goa, Cleiton Silva made an impact on the game beyond his goal. His movement across lines and awareness of where his teammates are at all times had the Blues faithful excited about what’s to come this campaign.
Having let Marcelinho go in the summer, the visitors will be banking on Liston Colaco to unlock defences this season. The Goan came into the game as a highly sought after teenager, standing out among his peers right from the under-14 days. While his move to FC Goa did not work out, he has finally hit his stride since joining Hyderabad FC midway through last season. Having played his formative years as a striker, he now occupies positions behind the striker or out wide, where he has the freedom to move across the pitch. With a full pre-season with his side under his belt, he will look to be at the centre of all things good for his team tonight.
The Spaniard brings strength and physical presence up front for a Hyderabad FC side’s attack that’s otherwise filled with nimble-footed players. Not that Santana works only as a traditional centre forward. He is equally good with the ball at his feet, which was evident in the game against Odisha FC. If his fellow countryman Francisco Sandaza is fit enough to play a part, he could form an effective attack which, on its day, would trouble any defence in the league.
Despite helping FC Goa to the Super Cup, he found playing time hard to come and decided to move to Hyderabad FC, where he has not only played more often but added another dimension to his game. Given the licence to express himself, he has moved into a free role - regularly drifting wide or occupying the free spaces behind the striker. Apart from finding the back of the net, he is equally capable of finding his teammates either with a short, defence-splitting pass or a long, cross-field diagonal.
While Luis Sastre has established himself as Hyderabad FC’s midfield lynchpin early in the season, with almost every move involving his feet, it is Joao Victor who brings stability to the team defensively. Besides hardly putting a foot wrong in their opening game, he also helped his side by regularly bringing the ball out of the defence and giving his teammates another passing option in the middle of the park. Capable of playing both as a defensive midfielder or as a centre-back, the Blues will have to be at their best to find a way past the Victor-led defence.
Rangers to telecast ISL matches
In a collaboration that strengthens Rangers FC’s growing relationship with the Indian football community, the Scottish giant has partnered with the Indian Super League to live stream selected matches in the United Kingdom. The matches will be shown on their Facebook page for free.
Speaking about this, James Bisgrove, Rangers' Commercial and Marketing Director said, “This innovative partnership with the ISL represents a further pillar in Rangers international strategy and cements our ambition to develop a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with the growing Indian football fan base. Everyone at Rangers sends best wishes to our partner club Bengaluru FC for the campaign and we look forward to welcoming them to Glasgow in July 2021 for a friendly match with the Rangers first team.”
Mandar Tamhane, Bengaluru FC Chief Executive Officer, said: “It is fantastic that our partnership with Rangers has now furthered to one with the Indian Super League. We are aware of the big presence of the Indian community in the UK and the fact that they will have free access to ISL games is something that will keep them closer to home. Through our partnership with Rangers, we are constantly looking to bring a value add, not just to Bengaluru FC, but to Indian football as a whole.”
Bengaluru FC's UK broadcast schedule:
- Bengaluru FC vs Hyderabad FC
- Bengaluru FC vs Kerala Blasters FC
- Bengaluru FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan
- Bengaluru FC vs SC East Bengal
- Bengaluru FC vs Mumbai City FC
On top in Europe
In their Europa League campaign, Rangers FC remain in control of their group having drawn 2-2 with Benfica in their last match. The Scottish side took a 2-0 lead against the Portuguese giants but they conceded twice in the last quarter of the game to share points. With a better head-to-head record against Benfica, they just need to match the Portuguese side's results in the remaining two games to qualify for the next round as the group leaders.
Cruising at home
In the Scottish Premiership, their domestic league, Rangers FC are sitting pretty at the top of the table on 41 points, 11 points ahead of second-placed Celtic with seven games to go. Steven Gerrard's side is well on course to win its first league title in almost a decade.
Of Silva linings and smiles
His Disposition Is Nice And Easy, His Thoughts, Articulate, But It’s Cleiton Silva’s Desire That Speaks The Loudest. In Fact, It Almost Yells At You, In A Way You Cannot Ignore…
Five minutes into conversation with Cleiton Silva, you come away with two notes. One, the man links everything to happiness and football. Two, his ambitions and drive come in only the one portion – king size. It also explains how he went about getting his first goal in a Bengaluru shirt and Indian football last Sunday, and the celebration that followed.
Speaking about king size, kings and fiefdom, Cleiton is footballing royalty in his own right. The Brazilian leaves Thailand as the League’s all-time leading scorer – a feat he’s managed across five clubs and roughly a decade in the Asian country. Which begs the question, why walk away from everything to restart from nothing?
“I guess it’s the thought of backing yourself to do it all over again in another country? I want to be able to do in India, what I achieved in Thailand and I feel I have that opportunity with Bengaluru FC. This is a big club that wins and always wants to win trophies. I want to win trophies, not just to turn up and play. I want to fight to top the League, to win the cup, to be top scorer, to be the MVP of the League. I can do all of this in Thailand. But now I want to do it in India.” The hunger in his voice is palpable.
For someone who hails from a patch on the earth that has a thick directory of footballing idols to choose from, Cleiton is expected to throw back his head, narrow his eyes and spill a few names when we task him with picking just one hero. Instead he asks us to check the phone where he’s sent us a picture. It’s that man. The one with the ridiculous hairdo, arms spread, buck teeth prominent, celebrating in the Selecao’s traditional colours of a yellow-green shirt and blue shorts, after just having reduced some defender’s career to a sorry existence. Cleiton’s even thrown in a caption for good measure – ‘The King R9’. It’s almost as if he’s kept that picture handy to settle an unannounced debate on who he thinks is the best.
“Football is filled with wonderful players like Neymar, Messi and Cristiano. But honestly, there is only one footballer in my heart – R9, the king. I have never seen a striker like him and never will, and I have seen some special footballers like Henry and Zidane. But Ronaldo - for me – was the greatest of them all. My memories as a kid of watching him and the things he did, are special. No footballer changed me the way Ronaldo did.”
He’s written records in a country halfway across the globe, but Cleiton wasn’t sure of a life in football until he actually packed his bags to head to Thailand. “I grew up on my grandfather’s farm. I have four brothers and though we did play football there, it was when I moved to the city, at eleven years of age, when I started taking the sport more seriously. I joined an academy called Democrata.”
When his elder brother buried his own aspirations of becoming footballer to begin doing the odd job, Cleiton knew that the dream rested on his shoulders. “My brother was a good player, but back then we didn’t have enough money and he had to start working when he was only 14. This was his dream before it was mine, and he supported me. It was difficult for me at first, because he and my parents struggled to pay for my bus tickets to go for training or when they had to buy me things. But when I look back now, I am happy because it paid off.”
It did pay off, but not until almost a decade later when Cleiton made the trip to Samut Prakan, a tiny province in Thailand where the erstwhile Osotsapa offered him a trial. “It wasn’t easy at first. I was stressed out quite a bit because I was turning 22 and not making enough money through football. I played amateur football in Brazil, because the Leagues there were not organised back then. Getting the opportunity to move to Thailand changed my life.”
Brief stints in China and Mexico fell in between, but it was his time in Thailand where Cleiton made a name for himself. Over a decade, Cleiton represented five Thai clubs, going on to win the Thai League, Thai League Cup and Thai Champions Cup on two occasions. Twice named the TPL’s top scorer, in 2012 and 2016, one would think things kicked off with ease for the Blues’ no. 23, but that was not the case.
“When I made the switch to Thailand, my agent was a player there, and his agent helped me get some trials. When I first arrived, I didn’t know many people or the culture or the food. I was homesick, and things were tough. But inside me I knew I had to be strong. Two weeks into my trial, another Brazilian player came along and we signed together. Things kicked on from there, but those first few weeks were among the toughest of my career. When I moved to Thailand is when I started sending enough money home to support my family.”
You can hear the happiness in his voice when he speaks about family. For Cleiton, nothing means more. The 33-year-old spends most of his time to and from training catching up with them. And a sense of responsibility towards his loved ones is what has seen him spend a third of his life away from them.
“My mother was a teacher, but now she is retired. My father looks after his farm. It’s something he loves doing; spending time with his poultry and cows. They have visited me in China and in Thailand, and now they are very curious about India, too. I’d love to have them here, but it is difficult. It was my son’s birthday a few days ago, and it’s tough to be away from them but that’s life. These are the sacrifices you have to make as a footballer.”
Even as he speaks of missing his little ones or spending his days alone in a hotel room, the Brazilian’s beam is wide. It is an expression that scarcely leaves him, and in giving us his final answer, Cleiton tells us that it’s the most important thing in his arsenal.
“I like to play with happiness. I still carry with me the joy of playing with my brothers in the farm. The rush I got from kicking the ball down the street with my friends when I was only a little boy. Happiness has always been the most important thing. Even when you are fighting for it, you need to already have it. Because if I am happy, I know I will play well.”
FEELS LIKE THE END
OF ETERNITY, THIS ONE
It’s The Beginning Of A New Season, And While I Know That Being There In Person Isn’t An Option, I’ll Be Doing Everything I Can To Make Sure The Boys Feel My Presence…
I’ll be honest when I say that this off-season has felt like eternity. The first lockdown, then the second one, for some of us a third one too. That, along with the isolation and the melancholy were the catalysts for troubled times. Seeing my club back in action makes the wait even more special and rewarding. For some of us, this has been the only thing to look forward to.
It’s different, yes. The season being postponed to begin in November with the pandemic has tested our patience. But it has also added to our resolve to try and be there for the boys in as many ways as we can. Through it all, I’m glad to have been able to see the club do some amazing work, especially with the ‘BackOnOurFeet’ campaign.