There may not have been much of a local element to Bengaluru FC’s championship-winning side, but nurturing talent from the region is still a priority, the club insists.
Vishal Kumar was the only player from Bangalore to spend any significant time on the pitch, while N.S. Manju, who last turned out for India three years ago, made only three appearances.
Younger players like Amoes and Niroshan Mani managed 10 minutes between them in total, while Don Bosco did not feature at all. All three left the club on loan in the winter.
“Bangalore and Karnataka have produced so many players for the Indian team; we are very much aware of that,” said assistant coach Pradhyum Reddy. “But when we set out to make a team last year, we didn’t find any who were already ready to play at this level. We can’t run a quota system here. We have to select a team on merit.”
Bengaluru FC remained committed, however, to nurturing talent in the region, Reddy stated. “The under-19 team is full of local players; all of them are from Karnataka. Our idea is to induct some of the good players there into the first team in the future.
“Also, N.S. Manju was injured and has struggled with injury in the previous few seasons. He has recovered now and will be back next season,” he said.
CEO Parth Jindal revealed that the club was in the process of setting up a full-time residential football academy in Vijayanagar, which is a four-hour drive.
“As we speak, the ground is being constructed and prepared,” he said. “Karnataka will be its centre-point, but it will be a pan-India academy.”
The frenzied support for Bengaluru FC (BFC), a phenomenon which has been absent in the recent past, indicates that the I-League champion has elevated local football into popular culture.
“We wanted to make it cool for people in Bangalore to support an I-League club. Not everyone here follows the national league. Stars like Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh were not getting the recognition that they deserved. That has changed now,” said BFC COO Mustafa Ghouse, when asked about the one-year-old club’s impact on football in the State.
Ghouse stated that the club’s decision to set up shop in Karnataka has paid dividends.
“We did our homework. We were aware that Karnataka has a rich history in the sport. The league systems here were already well established, and a sizable audience was readily available,” he said.
CEO Parth Jindal said that owning an Indian club was currently a “loss making venture”, but added that there was scope for improvement in the future.
“We formed BFC to enhance Indian football; this is the best way to make an impact,” Jindal said.