Bengaluru FC hit the ground running in Indian football winning the I-league in their inaugural season. They followed it up by becoming the first-ever Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final and then when they moved to the Indian Super League, they dominated proceedings once again.
It’s fair to say Bengaluru FC is a club that isn’t too used to failures and it’s perhaps why when the team lost three games in a row, their coach Carles Cuadrat lost his job.
But Bengaluru’s statement following the departure of their coach suggested that the reasons for firing the coach who had won them their first ISL title were a bit more than results on the pitch.
“After deep deliberation with the management, we feel the club needs to head in a new direction – one where the ethos and philosophy of Bengaluru FC begins reflecting again. While we enjoyed success with Carles in the past, we felt there was a departure from the philosophy that we hold true this season, which prompted us to arrive at this decision,” Parth Jindal, Bengaluru FC’s director was quoted as saying in the statement.
While winning is certainly a part of the ethos and philosophy at the club, achieving it in a certain way also holds significance. And anyone who’s watched Bengaluru FC over the last one and a half seasons would concur that the Blues under Cuadrat haven’t been the most attractive team to watch.
Lack of creativity
For two successive seasons in the ISL, Bengaluru FC were second only to Sergio Lobera’s FC Goa when it came to goals scored. However, last season only NorthEast United and Hyderabad FC, teams that finished in the bottom two spots, scored fewer goals than Bengaluru FC.
While Cuadrat’s men made it by having a solid defence that conceded a league lowest tally of 13 goals, the swagger that Bengaluru FC played with over the years since their inception was certainly missing.
Out of the 22 goals that the club scored, 17 were scored from set-pieces. The trend has continued this season as well with Bengaluru FC scoring nine out of the 12 goals from dead-ball situations.
While their potency on set-pieces has been commendable, the team has looked devoid of ideas otherwise. No team can win a tournament with such a heavy reliance on set-plays and Bengaluru FC found it out the hard way last season when ATK outclassed them in the semi-finals despite winning the first leg 1-0 and bagging an away goal in the opening minutes of the second leg.
This season, the team has slightly improved its scoring record but once again the threat has come from set-plays as the creative players on the pitch have looked off colour. They have got over the line against the lesser sides but the stronger sides have found ways to thwart their attack. Bengaluru have no wins against the current teams occupying the top four spots and have lost three of those games.
Failure of attacking imports
Another major factor that has led to Bengaluru FC’s trust in Cuadrat eroding is the lack of impact new attacking signings have had at the club. Last season, Manuel Onwu was brought in to replace the prolific Miku but the transfer failed to have any sort of impact as he failed to find the net for the Blues and was loaned out to Odisha FC.
What made matters worse for Cuadrat was that Onwu became an instant hit in Bhubaneswar scoring seven goals in ten matches. His replacement in Deshorn Brown who was signed mid-season only managed three goals in the league. Kevaughn Frater who was also brought to bolster the attack only managed to score one goal.
Despite the failures of the previous attacking signings, the club backed Cuadrat in the summer and added Brazilian Cleiton Silva and Norwegian Kristian Opseth to the ranks. But the story hasn’t changed. Silva has looked bright in patches and has scored three times in nine matches. Opseth, on the other hand, has looked fairly out of sorts and has struggled to earn a regular place in Cuadrat’s starting eleven.
With Opseth upfront, Bengaluru FC have looked even more laborious and have barely carried a threat.
Cuadrat and board not on the same page?
The team has regressed defensively too this season and have kept just two clean sheets so far this season. The Blues have also conceded 12 goals which is just one fewer than the tally of last season.
It’s an area where the club has left Cuadrat short-changed to an extent. The Blues allowed center-back Albert Serran and full-back, Nishu Kumar, to depart this season breaking a settled defensive core. Cuadrat didn’t hide his feelings about letting two of his trusted defensive players go in the press conference after the Mumbai City FC game that further added to tensions.
“The change of players makes me try and teach the new players to play the game in the way we want them to play. The club this season decided to change the defence and our defence was the best last season and did not concede many goals. I have to respect the decisions, I am a worker at the club and the club decided to release Nishu Kumar and Albert Serran,” said after the game against Mumbai City, while adding that the AFC Champions League slot is beyond the club’s reach this season and semi-final spot is all they can fight for.
New defensive signings Fran Gonzalez from Mohun Bagan, Pratik Chaudhari from Mumbai City FC, Ajith Kumar from Chennai City FC haven’t been able to produce the same level of performances further hurting Cuadrat’s cause.
There’s also a degree of imbalance to the squad that led Cuadrat to play a few players out of position. In Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan, the Blues have just two established wingers. With Ashique injured, Bengaluru FC have lacked any kind of natural width with forwards or attacking midfielders filling in in the wide areas in the last few games. Rahul Bheke, primarily a right-back, has been used mostly at centre-back or at left-back due to the lack of trusted options.
The recruitment over the last two seasons at the club has been questionable and the blame for it can’t solely rest on Cuadrat. However, the club’s performances in the last few matches that include a meek surrender against Mumbai City FC where the team at times looked like spectators in their own game, showed the team under the current management had run its race and was in need of a new direction.
Bengaluru FC’s brief history suggests that the club values managerial stability but when you have a habit of winning trophies that you don’t want to lose, ruthlessness can be an important and necessary trait.