Wouldn’t want anything to change at Bengaluru FC, says Sunil Chhetri after winning I-League

BANGALORE,ANIL DIAS : India skipper and Bengaluru FC talisman Sunil Chhetri talks to Anil Dias about his team’s title triumph

Firstly congratulations. How does it feel to win the I-League trophy twice in three seasons?
It’s been really amazing, especially after losing the league last year in the last five minutes. To win this year with a game to spare is really sweet. This year we’ve improved tremendously. A lot of youngsters came in and played really well. We had 10 or 11 different goalscorers. We fielded a team of all Indians in our last AFC game (vs Ayeyawady United) which we won (5-3). Credit for this goes to our coach Ashley Westwood.

How did you all celebrate the win?
Well, the party is still on (laughs). The whole team went to a bar in MG Road. It was so amazing to see everyone from the team present. You don’t see such anywhere else. We did meet the fans in the afternoon. You know, the fans are also one of the reasons we do well. And it’s really great to celebrate the win with them.

How different would you say this season was from the debut season?
Well, in the first season, no one knew about Bengaluru FC. So nobody expected us to win the title. But this year, the pressure was more. It’s not easy to start as one of the favourites. We were also not helped by injuries at crucial times. I was out, Eugene (Lyngdoh) was out for a month and a half. But this year it was the youngsters that stepped in and did very well. Daniel (Lalhlimpuia) and Malsawmzuala were amazing. Udanta (Singh) and CK Vineeth scored some important goals for us. So this was a spectacular team performance.

The team had a bit of slump in the middle when they lost to Mumbai, Sporting Clube de Goa and Mohun Bagan in a span of five games. What was the mood in the camp then? How did the team bounce back?
When you’re playing under a coach like Westwood, you have no chance to drop your head. He’s such a hard working guy and we just cannot let him down. After the loss to Mumbai, we had to get back and get a grip, which we did with our victory over East Bengal. What hurt the most was the loss to Sporting at home when they were 10 men. But the team regrouped well and came. I think had we lost another game after the Sporting fixture, it would have been difficult to come back. Thankfully, we fought back.

This season, it wasn’t the same starting XI, with players being asked to play in different positions. What was the idea behind that?
That’s completely the gaffer’s plan. He decided to rotate the players and play them in positions that suited the game. I remember our 2-2 away draw to Sporting, Curtis Osano was injured in the 15th minute and Keegan Pereira had to come on hold the defence. And he did so well that he didn’t allow a player of Odafe’s stature a shot at goal. Another incident was our 3-1 win to East Bengal at home. Malsawmzuala made a mistake that saw us conced. But Westwood backed him up, he trusted him. And Malsawmzuala went on to score that game. Little things like these matter.

You mentioned that Bengaluru had many youngsters in the squad. What do senior players like yourself tell them? And is there anything you’ll learn from them?
I don’t have to tell them anything actually. I just lead by example. Simple things like coming on time and being professional about the game gets ingrained into them. The good part about youngsters is that they are so fearless. You want to be like them. They also come out with new, fresh ideas. So it’s always good to have a team of both senior and junior players.

Lastly, how big a loss would it be to Bengaluru FC is Westwood decides not to continue as coach?
I don’t know where the rumours are coming from. He’s been a very important part of our family. Yes, I’d like to call it family. You know they say if it’s not broken, you don’t have to fix it. So that’s why I don’t want anything to change. I don’t even want the ball boy at the club to change. I don’t want anyone to go anywhere. Everything is cool over here. Every year when I see a few players leaving I feel sad. We started this club from scratch and look how amazing it’s been. And Westwood has been an integral part of it. I wouldn’t want anything to change.