Ashley Westwood has a reputation to defend, that of reigning I-League champion Bengaluru FC (BFC). “Teams are desperate to beat us this time. But, we are prepared.” Mumbai FC, gaining in confidence after three back-to-back victories, is the next team lined up for the visitor.
I-League managers and coaches are in the firing line — Dempo SC’s Arthur Papas is facing the heat after a rout at the Nehru stadium in Fatorda against East Bengal, while the Kolkata side changed its coach midway through the league, replacing Armando Colaco with Eelco Schattorie.
Westwood is of the opinion that every manager needs three seasons to get the best out of his players. Refusing to comment on the management decision at Dempo and East Bengal, two glamour clubs with high expectations from star-studded sides, he reasoned: “We planned to finish midway in first season, consolidate our gains in the second and take a crack at the title in the third.”
Westwood and BFC struck gold from their first attempt, lifting the I-League title on debut in 2014. Papas took charge of a high-profile Goan team after working with a young group at Pailan Arrows. Colaco called the shots at Dempo for a long time as secretary-cum-coach, building a powerful squad which dominated the I-League and Indian football for a long time, before taking up the East Bengal coaching offer.
Westwood is now viewed as a trend-setter in Indian football coaching, after moulding BFC into a successful squad capable of destroying defences with its attacking play. He was among the names discussed for the role of national team head coach, before the AIFF technical committee decided to bring back Stephen Constantine.
The defending champion lies third in the standings, with three defeats in eight matches creating a feeling among its opponents that BFC is beatable. “We have faced a difficult time in away games. Mumbai FC is a tough rival at home (Cooperage stadium),” said Westwood. “It has good players, and is scoring goals from throw-ins and set pieces.”
Mumbai is known to throw skilful players off their rhythm with a physical game, as Royal Wahingdoh realised the hard way at the Cooperage. “We know what to expect, and have the players to respond,” noted Westwood, describing counterpart Khalid Jamil as a capable coach.
“Jamil assembled a good bunch and is getting them to play well. As long as he focuses on football, it is okay with me,” said the BFC coach, known as a hard taskmaster, laying down the law on everything from players’ diet to preparation to matchplay.
Hopefully, his success in season two will convince I-League managements elsewhere about the value of patience and professionalism when dealing with coaching staff.
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