Going for tried and tested is reaping rewards for finalists
Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC have not made it to the final of the Hero Indian Super League by accident. Careful team-building, selection and trusting players they have known in the past have certainly helped.
Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC were the most consistent of the teams, having been in the top-four spots, or thereabouts, throughout the season. They finished one-two at the end the league stage. The two South Indian outfits had similar approaches to their player recruitment. Both squads had a familiar look, despite the teams putting together their Indian contingent through a player draft system.
There was a concerted effort from the think-tanks to bring in players who knew the clubs’ culture and style of play well, ensuring there was some continuity from the previous seasons. And the strategy has reaped rewards. While the Blues retained 11 of their players, Chennaiyin FC managed to re-sign 10 going into the season. If you consider Mailson Alves, who was part of the team in 2015, the number will rise to 11 for Chennaiyin FC as well.
Bengaluru FC retained Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh, apart from Nishu Kumar and Malsawmzuala. In the draft, the Blues made sure that the likes of Harmanjot Khabra, Lenny Rodrigues, Lalthuammawia Ralte and Alwyn George were also signed. Even the foreign contingent had a familiar feel about it, thanks to the presence of centre-backs John Johnson and Juanan. While the former has been in Bengaluru since inception, Juanan came to the side along with coach Albert Roca in 2016.
For Roca, who himself was carrying on from the previous season, the fact that he had a major chunk of players with whom he worked with helped. Chhetri, Udanta, Khabra and Lenny were all important cogs in the wheel for Roca’s team and the continuity helped the Spaniard reinforce his philosophy. Chennaiyin FC too followed a similar policy with their squad composition. Jeje Lalpekhlua, Karanjit Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Baoringdao Bodo were all retained.
Dhanpal Ganesh, Dhanachandra Singh, Thoi Singh and Pawan Kumar – all part of the franchise from the previous years – were picked in the domestic player draft. Adding to the continuity factor was the presence of Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto, part of the squad from 2016.
Though coach John Gregory was new to the side, he was able to quickly ascertain the qualities of the players at his disposal and instil a commendable sense of camaraderie in the team. This has been one of the hallmark of the Super Machans throughout the season and something they will bank upon when they take on the might of Bengaluru FC in the final on Saturday.