ISL 2017: Mutual respect between Roca and Guimaraes underlines Bengaluru vs Mumbai City
The reset button has been hit for Bengaluru FC as they prepare to kick-start a new journey in the Indian Super League (ISL) at the Kanteerava Stadium (aka The Fortress). Some branded them 'upstarts' who make their debut in the revamped competition this season while there are others who respect their achievements in not only Indian football but also on the continental front.
Though it's tough to pick favourites for the title when the season has only just kicked off, fans in the city are hopeful. However, Blues coach Albert Roca remained humble about their chances this season.
"Even though we are new in the championship, we are ambitious," Roca said. "We have to be humble, for sure. But we also have to be ambitious at the same time. Our mentality will not change and we will never give up - whatever the result."
That mentality has been responsible for the Blues' rise in the Indian football scene ever since the club was formed in 2013. The ISL 'debutants' have already won four trophies - one for every year of existence - including two I-League titles and two Federation Cups.
But this is a format that Roca is not used to. Most leagues around the world (including the I-League) crowned their champions based on whichever team accumulated the most points. However, the ISL will see the top four from the league stage qualify for the playoffs (semi-finals).
"We have to accept the rules, you know," Roca admitted matter-of-factly. "There is a playoff after the league [stage].
"The goal is to be among the four teams that qualify for the semi-finals and [eventually the] final. But there is a long way to go before we can think about that."
A long way indeed. The ISL has usually been a 3-month long affair which usually culminates around Christmas. But this time the final league game will be played in the first week of March.
It's a schedule that is certainly helpful - especially to Bengaluru FC who have to play in the early stages of the AFC Cup in January; a sentiment Blues skipper Sunil Chhetri shares.
"Compared to the last couple of years, there is much more time [between games]. It's going to be beneficial for all of us," he explained. "We've been playing in the AFC Cup for the last three years so it becomes paramount for us to play only on Saturdays and Wednesdays."
Is he looking that far ahead?
"We'll start the season like we do every time - take it one game at a time. Thinking about reaching the top four even before the season is not done as players. The attitude stays the same - get three points in the home game by doing our best and moving forward.
Mumbai City were the best team in the ISL last year: Roca
Bengaluru face Chhetri's former ISL club Mumbai City and it's the only team from last season's competition that have retained their coach.
Costa Rican coach Alexandre Guimaraes did well to ensure the Mumbai side topped the table at the end of the league stage before falling to eventual champions Atletico de Kolkata in the final.
And Roca heaped a lot of praise on Guimaraes: "I like this coach. You can see he did a very good job last year. It was a shame they didn't reach the final.
"They were the best team playing last year in the ISL. They are a very good team who could cause a lot of trouble for us tomorrow. It's not going to be easy."
Although Chhetri played for the side for two ISL seasons, he has no regrets over playing against his former side.
"I had a great time in Mumbai. Right from the owners to the ball boys - they were all very kind to me. I had a lovely two years there but it's done, it's gone! It doesn't come up in my mind at all - they're just a team that I'm preparing against.
"So many teams we play this year have some of our former players. We can't think about these things. It's all about delivering for BFC."
Guimaraes wary of Bengaluru threat
The Mumbai City coach was also full of praise for what Bengaluru had achieved in the past few years in Indian and Asian football.
"I admire what Bengaluru have been doing," Guimaraes said. "And we are very excited because we know we are going to play a very good team who is much more advanced in their preparation compared to all the other teams in the ISL.
"We had a very good pre-season and we're optimistic to be competitive and get a result from here," he continued. "We've come here to play our game and in the last two practices I advised them on our opponents so it's going to be a very interesting game tomorrow."
The Mumbai coach is also wary of the key players in the Blues squad even though it's the first time he will be facing them.
"Bengaluru have Udanta [Singh], Sunil who played for us last season and even Erik Paartalu who has played for me in China (with Tianjin TEDA FC)."
Guimaraes and Roca are not strangers to each other. He knows all about his Spanish counterpart.
"Roca is doing a very good job here," he opined. "I've known Roca for a long time. When I was in Costa Rica he was coaching the El Salvador national team. I know his style and it's not different from what he's trying to do here in Bengaluru."
Bengaluru host Mumbai City at the Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday (19th) with the game kicking off at 8 PM.