Good evening everyone,
The last two times I sat down to write this column, I hoped I could be discussing a victory with all of you. Instead, our wait continues. The manner and moment in which we went down to Kerala on Wednesday, left all of us gutted. We felt we were in charge of the game for large phases, only to let things slip towards the end. We keep talking about how football is a game of such fine margins, and we were handed a reminder at the GMC. Cleiton’s phenomenal effort was inches away from going in, only for it to bounce back off the post. We went on to concede from the same play, and then had a minute to try and claw back. It was too late.
But while we can’t change the way that game ended, tonight’s fixture against Odisha is in our hands. If we keep things simple in every department, I am confident that we will turn a corner. It’s important that we are relentless in our pursuit for three points.
Things have been tough for us through the season, with new challenges coming our way every other week. In the build-up to the Kerala game, we lost Dimas Delgado who had to leave the team and fly back home to Spain owing to a family emergency. Our thoughts are with him in what is a very difficult time.
Our backs are against the wall and we need a reaction from the team, who are completely committed to giving the dressing room and all you fans the result we need. Odisha too have found the going tough and will be keen to move up from the bottom of the table. The fact that they are only two wins away from doing it, will spur them to come at us with everything. They put on a very solid second half against an in-form Hyderabad team the other night, and could count themselves unlucky for not coming away with a win. We won’t have it easy tonight.
While we have made our notes on the opposition and the threat they possess, tonight will be about how well we execute the kind of football we are capable of playing. Like always, your support has been tremendous and your frustration, understandable. Hopefully, all of us will have a happier end to the evening. We will not be giving up. Enjoy the game.
The Blues are up against Odisha FC at the Fatorda tonight, and there’s a lot at stake for Naushad Moosa’s men. The visitors may be rock-bottom on the pile, but little we have seen this season suggests that form guides play a part in the way things go about on the pitch.
MUCH TO PLAY FOR
Bengaluru FC are winless in five games and will hope to end that streak against Stuart Baxter’s men tonight. However, from what was seen in the reverse fixture at the GMC Stadium, Odisha FC are no pushovers. They may be bottom of the pile on the table, but will be eager to take advantage of the Blues’ lack of form when the two sides meet tonight. Bengaluru need a win to keep their hopes of a playoff spot alive while Odisha will look to hit where it hurts most. All the makings of a classic!
ATTACK vs DEFENCE
While the Blues have found the going tough in front of goal this season, Odisha FC have shipped in 19 goals so far; the most by any side in the League. Moosa’s men will do well to find a way past the leaky Odisha FC defence. In Diego Mauricio and Marcelinho, Odisha have Brazilian firepower that is enough to make the difference on the night. Bengaluru will have to be wary of the threat posed by Odisha and will hope to be more clinical in the final if they are to take the points from this one.
UNTIL THE END
Odisha’s only win of the campaign so far saw Baxter’s men dig deep and come from behind to beat Kerala Blasters FC two weeks ago. The Kalinga Warriors could have had more than just the point they eventually won against an in-form Hyderabad FC as well last week, having led for a majority of that game before sharing the spoils to a late equaliser. While the first goal tonight could well be crucial, should the Blues be the ones to score it, Moosa’s men will do well to add to their tally knowing Odisha’s love for a fightback.
Rahul Bheke vs Diego Mauricio
Odisha FC might be down at the bottom of the table but their star striker is doing his best to change that. Diego Mauricio has six goals and an assist to his name, and he keeps finding space in games because of his ability to drift wide and move into areas vacated by his full-backs. Rahul Bheke has a goal and an assist in the last two games, but he will have to balance his attacking forays with defensive duties tonight to deal with the threat posed by the Brazilian.
Amay Morajkar vs Vinit Rai
There’s the possibility of two young midfielders going head to head in the middle of the park tonight! Long considered a bright prospect, Vinit Rai has established himself as the first choice in Odisha’s midfield - and Delhi Dynamos before that. He is an all-action midfielder who loves to sit back and protect his defence. Up against him could be Amay Morajkar, the Blues’ youngster who made his full debut against Kerala Blasters. The 20-year-old was calm, composed and rarely put a foot, or a pass, wrong on Wednesday. It was a big ask to step into Dimas Delgado’s shoes but Amay played as though both the occasion and the task failed to faze him.
Sunil Chhetri vs Jacob Tratt
Naushad Moosa’s tactical move to put Sunil Chhetri, a striker converted into a winger, back in his central role almost paid off against Kerala Blasters. The skipper’s energy, direct runs and determination to chase down second balls stopped the Blasters from building play from behind. Odisha are known to do the same, with both their central defenders featuring in the top three for most touches and passes in the opposition camp. Jacob Tratt, in particular, loves taking the ball up the field and usually plays into the space his midfielders vacate. That, combined with Odisha’s high defensive line, may be something the skipper could exploit at the Fatorda.
Fran with a plan
A Lamp On Fran Gonzalez’s Table In His Room At The Team Hotel Tells You He’s Not Your Typical Footballer. The Spaniard, Who Spends A Lot Of Time In Study, Says That - Between Continents, Countries And Cultures - He’s Eager To Learn More Than Just The Sport...
He admits he’s late to the party, but Fran Gonzalez has just finished devouring all seasons of the British gangster family epic, Peaky Blinders and it doesn’t take long to realise that the Spaniard is the spitting image of one of the key characters on the show - Arthur Shelby. The baritone, the moustache and even the mohawk is on point. But that’s where the similarities end. Arthur, second-in-command of the mob family that runs Birmingham, is reckless, outspoken and never has a plan. Gonzalez, meanwhile, is calculated, speaks in whispers and when it comes to plans, has three at any given time.
The 32-year-old was a signing the Blues made this season with an eye on the versatility he provides, but more importantly, with the kind of certitude and voice that are part of his character. Appearances for the Spaniard have been few and far between so far this season, but a combination of poor form, personal tragedy and injuries on the team mean he has moved to the frontline of the battle that the Blues are waging, and doing the single most thing he loves about the sport he plays - compete.
“It’s the biggest reason why I chose to make football my life - to get the chance to compete day in, day out.” It’s exactly what Fran did on the streets of Cordoba, along with his friends and a football - compete, and compete hard.
When a scout, affiliated with Real Madrid, dropped by the Gonzalez house in Cordoba one evening with an offer to take a fourteen-year-old Fran to La Fábrica - the club’s palatial Academy, it was supposed to be a decision that would require days of deliberation. Instead, the visibly eager youngster stepped a line when he gave his consent, but was soon joined by his parents across it. “I have vivid memories of that day. We were seated in the living room - the scout, my parents and I. My three siblings were banished to the bedroom but had their ears to the wall. They knew this little meeting could be life-altering for me. The scout went on to tell us that he had been following my progress for two years and backed it up with reports.”
With a father who was a doctor and siblings immersed in academics, joining a football academy seemed ludicrous. But the more miles Fran and his parents erased through their four-hour drive from Cordoba to Madrid, the decision made perfect sense.
He may not have ended up donning the famous whites of Real, but every single day of the two years he spent at the academy was an assurance that football was his calling. At eighteen, he signed with UD Almeria B. A five-year stay in Spain that saw him turn out for Lucena CF, Deportivo B, Real Zaragoza B and hometown club Cordoba CF B, came to an end when Fran’s last team in Spain, Hercules, suffered heartbreak in the final that would send the winners to the second division.
Along with his career, his curiosity for different cultures too was growing, and suddenly the boy who found comfort in Cordoba, packed his bags for Cyprus. “I reached a point where I felt I gave everything to play in the top division in Spain, but every season there was a hurdle at the finish line that prevented me from making it. Losing out on a promotion berth on the last day, almost signing with a big club only for the deal to fall through at the eleventh hour - it kept happening. That’s when I decided that I had given Spain my best shot and was ready for a different challenge - both professionally and culturally.
From moving clubs in Spain, Fran soon began moving clubs in different countries and his passport had stamps from Thailand, Poland, Hong Kong and then India. Gonzalez began his sojourn in India with a stint at Mohun Bagan, where he won the I-League title in his debut season. “I wanted to play football, and I wanted to see the world. The good news was that I could do both. And without doubt, Asia is my favourite continent. It has taught me much about life as much as it has about football.”
Off the pitch, Fran’s everything but a football man. His room - the door of which is always open - has a portable reading light on the table and there are books to go with it. The man even carries them on his way to training, burning through pages on the thirty-minute bus journey to the facilities. He has questions about digital media and its intricacies, that he’s constantly throwing the media team’s way. His desire to learn and build is more than evident.
“In so many ways, I am not your typical footballer. I don’t watch football and I don’t own a PlayStation with the latest version of FIFA on it. Don’t get me wrong. I owe everything to the sport, and the moment I set foot on a pitch, it is all I am thinking about. But beyond it, I want to absorb so much more. Also, I need to have a Plan B in life. It could be an aspect associated with football,” he says.
He enjoys making his presence felt on the pitch, barking instructions to those around him and constantly organising the team, which begs the question - will he ever consider coaching after he’s done playing? “Honestly, I think I would make a good coach. I have two badges already and will be completing them all in time. The thing is, I love to compete more than you can imagine. When I go back home, I enjoy my time off, but soon I crave to compete. These coaching badges are an insurance of sorts, should I ever feel the need to get back on a pitch. The idea is to have a host of options but not shut the door on the most obvious one. There are no guarantees in a footballer’s life, and it’s important to have your options for that next step, ready. It’s also a big reason why I try to enjoy every single day in football because you can never tell when it will be your last.”
By Fran’s own admission, he couldn’t fathom the chaos around him when he moved to India last season. But that’s till he learned to embrace it. “It’s over here that I learned, with every passing day, that there are so many different ways and perspectives to look at things in life. I have been so happy here. There are things that I’ve seen and told those around me, that if this doesn’t change your mind, then you don’t have a heart. The football will keep happening till it stops one day. But India has made me a better person, and that will always stay.”