Good evening everyone,
It has been quite an eventful few days at the club and I am certain that all of you are going through a range of emotions. Addressing the supporters through this space is completely new to me, but I would like to begin by thanking Carles Cuadrat for everything he has done for this club and me. I have had the privilege of spending four seasons working closely with him, and it has been an education. I believe that all of us - staff and players - will further build on all the wonderful work he has done during his time here.
We haven’t had the best few weeks in terms of results, but the advantage of a packed calendar is that you get the chance to respond and fix things sooner rather than later. The game against East Bengal today is an opportunity for us to show character and get back to winning ways and the dressing room knows this well. We need to back the ability and quality we possess with some confidence, and we will be alright.
East Bengal may have not had the best start to the season, but they are rapidly improving and are in a phase where things are coming together for them. We will not be looking at their position on the table as an indicator of the kind of challenge we will be up against. We have had three days to work on the things we need to better, and we need to make it count.
It’s ironic that in my first game in charge of the club, we will be up against a team that I have made many fond memories with as a player. But the moment we step on the pitch, that will be a nice little side story as compared to the bigger task at hand.
I have spent four seasons at this football club and I can tell you very confidently that the biggest strength of Bengaluru FC has been its ability to unite and fight hard when the chips are down. The players, the staff and the fans are all bound together by the desire to do better and you cannot put a price on that. We are in a good position on the table, with an aim to climb higher and everyone in this team is committed to the cause.
Personally, what I’ve always been amazed at the most is how the stands react whenever we go down by a goal at the Fortress. That takes something special. We’re going to need that again. We have always been in this together and nothing changes.
The Blues host SC East Bengal at the Fatorda tonight and the Red and Gold brigade, ninth in the table, come into the game with the wind beneath their wings. This could be a tricky fixture for Naushad Moosa to begin his tenure as the interim coach, and here are three points to keep an eye out for tonight:
The Blues are sixth in the League, three points behind the final playoff spot with a game in hand. East Bengal are ninth, after spending most of the season rock bottom. However, the visitors come into this game on a four-game unbeaten run while the Blues have lost three games in a row. BFC will have to be at their very best to tip the tables tonight.
BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL
Bright Enobakhare’s arrival has coincided with East Bengal’s unbeaten run, with the Nigerian adding the style and effort that Robbie Fowler’s side needed. After scoring from the bench on his debut, he showed his skill, finesse, composure and close control to beat four players before finishing past Mohammad Nawaz. He has added some urgency to East Bengal’s play and could make the difference tonight if he isn’t closely watched.
East Bengal could be the perfect opposition for the Blues’ attack to rediscover its form in front of goal. The Kolkata outfit has the most porous defence in the league, with the side leaking goals even during their recent unbeaten run. This could be the perfect opportunity for the Blues to find their shooting boots again.
SC East Bengal entered the competition late and took time to have a settled, competitive squad. While their season started on the backfoot, a four-game unbeaten run has Robbie Fowler’s side heading towards some light at the end of the tunnel.
Despite initial results not going their way, the following three players stood out for them since their first game in the competition, and will no doubt play a key role should they take the field tonight.
The Irish winger has been used as a striker to good effect by Fowler. He leads the line well, using his experience to change positions and is a vocal presence in attack, constantly communicating with those around him and orchestrating the attack. While he probably has not scored as many goals as he would have liked, what he does on and off the ball compensates for that. Pilkington has committed the most fouls for East Bengal and is at the top of the charts for passes made, touches and tackles. He's a feisty character that snaps at opposition heels until they yield, or till the referee’s whistle is heard.
Like Pilkington, Jacques Maghoma also spent most of his career playing behind the striker - either as a central or wide midfielder. Despite that, the Congolese has responded well to being put up front at SC East Bengal. He has built an understanding with Pilkington and the duo constantly exchange positions, making it difficult for their markers to track their movements. Dropping deep, pulling wide or playing on the shoulder of the last man - they do it all in the space of 90 minutes, which also forces defenders to adjust their tactics mid-game to keep up with them. Maghoma tops the scoring charts for the Red and Gold, with Matti Steinmann in second place.
Speaking of Steinmann, the first and currently the only German player in the league plays either at the base of the midfield or in a more box-to-box role depending on who he partners in the middle of the park. Not one to shy away from a tackle, the 25-year-old is comfortable with the ball at his feet and has the engine to run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes with ease. He has made the most tackles for the Red and Gold Brigade, along with the most passes and touches. He is, quite literally, central to all of SC East Bengal's tactics.
Small memory, big heart
At Every Stage In His Career, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s Been Thrown Into The Fire; Handed Opportunities, And Responsibilities That Seemed Outside His Comfort Zone. It’s What The Blues’ Shot-stopper Credits As Having Made Him The Player And Person He Is…
It was only by chance that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu found himself guarding the posts for Chandigarh at the All-India National Football tournament. He’s six-foot six inches and is India’s No. 1 goalkeeper, but Gurpreet concedes something had to align in the skies above him to get him to where he is today.
“To be honest, I wasn’t the best goalkeeper growing up. It was maybe the stars that wanted me to represent the clubs I have, and my country. When I was selected to play for Chandigarh, it was only because nobody else was available. I wasn’t the number one choice. But someone was injured and someone else had school, so they took me along and I got to play state level football. It was the beginning of something special.”
Have represented his State and spotted by National Team scouts, Gurpreet was soon wearing the colours of the Indian National team. Yet again, it was someone else’s absence that brought him to the limelight. “When I made the U16 National Team, Harshad Meher was the first-choice goalkeeper. The day before we were to fly out to Saudi Arabia for the AFC U16 Group Stage matches, he injured his knee and I was asked to play those games. We went unbeaten in our group, and I conceded only one goal. That’s how it started for me. I had to do well, because it was do or die, quite literally,” Gurpreet admits.
From playing for the National team to then being signed by East Bengal aged just 18 and guarding the posts in a stadium that was packed to the brim, life went by fast for young Gurpreet. While he says he savoured every moment, and looks back on his time with the Red and Golds with great fondness, Saturday’s fixture at the Fatorda is just another on the schedule for him.
“Playing at such a high level at such a young age was very important for my career. I was eighteen years old when I played my first Calcutta derby, and that was in front of a hundred-thousand people. That’s where I made the decisions that a young player makes on the pitch. Having that in my arsenal of experience helped me a lot to transition into the player I am today. I’ll admit there was a bit of emotion the first time that we played East Bengal; it was actually a friendly game at the Kanteerava. But Bengaluru FC is my family now and that doesn’t change no matter who we face anymore.”
Gurpreet concedes that while his position on the pitch does come with more brickbats than bouquets, it is the one he signed up for and one that he relishes every single day.
“It’s true that most of the time, goalkeeping is a thankless job. But it’s the one I chose. Humans aren’t perfect, but goalkeepers are required to be. There have been games where I’ve felt I was perfect, but it simply wasn’t enough. The truth is that anyone else on the pitch can make a mistake and have people around to cover up for them, but if I make a mistake on the line, it’s over. It’s something that drains you mentally, but I’ve always remembered something that Tanmay Basu – my coach with the national youth teams told me when I was younger. He said he liked me because I had a short memory, and goalkeepers needed that. In our position, we have to take it on the chin, and head to training next day to get better.”
Gurpreet has had his fair share of off-the-pitch moments, both good and bad, and the 28-year-old says he believes every experience is one that was necessary in his development, as a player and as a person. “Sometimes the things that happen off the pitch make you ruthless on it. I think men are already asked to bottle their emotions so much that it ends up becoming unhealthy. I sometimes did things that I regret, but that’s human nature. With time and age, I have learned of better coping mechanisms. Earlier, I’d come back from a bad game and I wouldn’t sleep or watch the game. Now I process it differently. I don’t let it get to me anymore because I have the responsibility of going out there and doing it again.”
While Gurpreet the footballer doesn’t shy away from his duties on the pitch, Gurpreet the person knows that his role as an athlete brings with it a level of responsibility that few are privileged to have. The 2019 Arjuna Award winner says that he wants to affect change in other people’s lives, sometimes even those who do not know him as being a footballer.
“The experiences I’ve had, the people in my life, the places I have been and where I come from have all played a part in making me who I am. There is a need for people to go out there and use the position that they are in, as athletes or personalities, to affect good change. I hope there are people who see my thoughts and want to stop using plastic or read more about the environment or understand feminism or gender equality because these are very important things. It was gradual for me, but when I really stood up and started speaking about these things on social media was when I saw my fiancé doing it. The way people would get empowered just by reading her stories or her thoughts was very enlightening for me. It doesn’t matter how many people you affect, what matters is that you are relentless in your pursuit.”