ISL 2018-19: Bengaluru FC's silent guardian, Juanan Gonzalez is their watchful protector
Bengaluru, as a sporting city, is not new to the idea of a hero who flies under the radar. Heck, they have a monument at the most famous sporting venue of the city celebrating one such hero - The Wall, Bengaluru fondly knows him as.
The wall at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru reads "Commitment, Consistency, Class," as a tribute to Rahul Dravid. Such a wall with the same words inscribed at the Bangalore Football Stadium or the Kanteerava Stadium wouldn't go amiss. Only, the wall would be a Spanish one in this case, and not an Indian.
Juanan Gonzalez has loved flying under the radar. He's near the end of his third season at Bengaluru FC, and finally, he's getting the due credit he deserves.
For the first two seasons of his time at Bengaluru, maybe it was understandable that Juanan flew under the radar. His partner at the heart of the Bengaluru defence was John Johnson - a man that Bengaluru loved - a club legend who, in his five years in the Garden City, etched a special place for himself in the hearts of the fans.
But this season, how has he flown under the radar yet again? Maybe because Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh have scored the goals? Maybe because Bengaluru's 'Bhekenbauer' Rahul Bheke has popped up with the all-important goals, in addition to his defensive duties? Maybe because Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has pulled off some world-class saves?
Well, none of those are justifiable reasons for the Spaniard to slip under the radar. He's been the butt of jokes a few times, the skipper Sunil Chhetri once even called him the 'baby' of the dressing room, because of his incessant whining.
The same Chhetri, when speaking about the final, spoke about how in the summit clash against FC Goa, Juanan didn't shut up, always marshalling his troops, always ensuring Nishu Kumar knew where he had to be and what he had to do.
And yet, the moment of the final possibly came after a moment of uncertainty from Nishu. An uncertain header from the left-back went straight to Ferran Corominas, who was running through on goal, but there was Juanan. Coro had to get past his Spanish counterpart. He didn't. Juanan flew in, and he won the ball. Inch-perfect.
So, let's talk about Coro, then? Let's talk about the undisputed player of the season in ISL 2018-19. Let's talk about the 300 minutes he played against Bengaluru all season. Let's talk about how he had no shots on target in those 300 minutes. How? Maybe the easy way to answer that is to say that he was faced by Juanan.
In the language of social media today, we might not be wrong in saying that on all the three days, Juanan would go back into the dressing room, empty his pockets, and Coro would come out.
His positional play is probably what makes him fly under the radar, in all honesty. Comparing him to some of the other top centre-backs in the ISL, Juanan is prominent in his absence from the spotlight.
Lucian Goian, rightly so, gets the plaudits, for his daredevilry. He's not as much worried about leaving space behind, as he is about being on the front-foot and winning tackles early. Goian makes those tackles. It was similar with Chennaiyin FC's Mailson Alves last season, the daredevilry was thrilling.
But with Juanan, there's none of that. He knows where he has to be, when he has to be. And he's there. Just sweeping everything up.
He played 20 games this season, and in addition to his 22 tackles won, he blocked 22 shots and made 152 clearances. The blocks and clearances only happen when your positional play is absolutely perfect.
From that Kanteerava night in 2016, where he put the gloss on the AFC Cup semifinal victory over Johor Darul Ta'zim, to that Mumbai night in 2019, when he won the ISL with Bengaluru, Juanan has not changed.
He's Bengaluru FC's Dark Knight. He protects them, and maybe he can do it in his sleep.