The Indian Super League (ISL) is seven days away from kick-off and the 10 teams including new entrants Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC are eager to make a positive start to the almost 5-month long league.
Bengaluru FC, which will be playing in the franchise-based league for the first time, are being cited as pre-tournament favourites. Coach Albert Roca’s boys have the advantage of having played extensively in Indian conditions while participating in the I-League.
While Roca did acknowledge a learning curve that comes while joining a new league. He, however, was positive that his side can adapt quickly, having slogged it out in the I-League.
“I don’t want to be favourite because I don’t feel like favourites,” Roca said. “We have never been in this competition compared to the others. This doesn’t allure me. It is great that other teams respect us. We cannot feel like favourites because it will cause us trouble in the league.”
This is a new phase for Bengaluru FC, who entered the ISL after a decision was taken by the All India Football Federation to begin work on a combined league.
While Bengaluru made the switch, legacy clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan did not take the leap. Roca has spent quite some time now in India deciphering ways to outplay the Kolkata giants. This season, though, the marquee clashes will be missing from his action plan. a turn of events that has left him a little disheartened.
“It is shame. I would like competitors like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. I hope next year these two teams are part of the competition because they are a part of the Indian football history and they deserve to be here. It is just a question of time and Bengaluru will soon face these teams again,” said Roca on Friday.
Talking about the difference between the ISL and I-league, Roca said that the level of competition is understandably higher in the ISL due to the foreign players and the quality they bring onto the field.
What he not miss, though, is the sub-standard ground conditions that his team would be subject to occasionally in the I-League.
“We have played in the I-league where the pitches were completely in a bad condition and we had to adapt to the conditions. Now all the pitches will be good. The teams we are playing will be different. Some of players have never played such a competition. John Johnson has never played against the likes of Dimitar Berbatov or Robbie Keane. This is another level and it isn’t going to be easy,” said Roca.
Their first goal as a team is to make the semis, which will be a great achievement, feels Roca. “We are excited to start well. Our goal is to be in the semi-finals first. It will be a great achievement for us give it is our first time,” said Roca.