Bengaluru FC midfielder Erik Paartalu is excited to get started in the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) season, with the Australian saying that he is fortunate to have the unique circumstances that this season will be played in.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Paartalu opens up on life in the uncertain times created by COVID-19, how he has managed to keep himself fit, and the influx of Australians in the ISL this year.
The Australian midfielder heaped praise on the way the Bengaluru FC staff have approached their pre-season, pointing out the dangers of trying to do too much in too little time.
"Every season is different," Paartalu says, "It is amazing to see how the body actually gets ready in such a short space of time."
The foreigners in the Bengaluru FC squad only joined the team in the last week of October, and only started training in the beginning of November, after completing their mandatory quarantine period in Goa.
"We are used to six to eight weeks at least, usually. Three weeks is probably cutting it a bit fine, particularly coming off our long layoff."
Paartalu praised the Bengaluru FC staff for not having crammed in too many games in a short space of time.
"The staff have put together a good programme, and have not rushed us by playing too many games in two weeks, like some other teams. So I think we are going in the right way, and hopefully will be ready for the first game of the season," the big Aussie said.
Bengaluru FC play their first game of the season against FC Goa at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on November 22. Paartalu rubbished any suggestions that the Bengaluru FC foreigners might be undercooked in terms of their sharpness for that game.
"The foreigners that will start would have had three weeks of training before that game. So it is not a concern. We are paid to keep fit during the off-season, so hopefully that can show from the first game."
Paartalu also expressed confidence in the ability of the squad's Indian players to hit the ground running. They had all began training at the JSW Group's Inspire Institute of Sports in Ballari at the beginning of October.
Bengaluru FC are one of only two ISL teams that have retained their coaching staff from last season - with ATK Mohun Bagan being the other.
In a season like this one, Paartalu believes that comes with its advantages.
"Our core has remained together for 4-5 years now, and the coaching staff, and that gives us an advantage, especially with some other teams not having the time."
The Aussie, though, is certain that does not give Bengaluru FC the right to take things for granted.
"The continuity doesn't mean we are going to walk the league. There is going to be unpredictability, so we have to be prepared and do our homework, like we always do," he said.
Fine balance to maintain fitness through lockdown, says Erik Paartalu
Paartalu reached his home in Sydney, Australia, at the end of last season, and says that it has been a challenge to maintain fitness through what has been a difficult seven months.
"I have kept myself fit, this is my life, my job, I take it very serious. It is unfortunate that we've had such a long time off," he says.
The Australian also said that it was a bigger challenge mentally, rather than physically.
"Mentally, you go crazy. It's a shame, sometimes, when you haven't got the team to train with or join another team for training."
Paartalu did work with his personal trainer in the off-season, and said that he did between six and 12 sessions a week.
Sometimes, that also included testing his shooting against Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who also spent a bulk of the off-season in Sydney.
But Paartalu was wary of the balance between training and resting. "You can't hammer yourself for seven months, and you need that mental break as well," he said.
Paartalu is also wary of the mental strain that could be caused by a long season spent in the confines of a hotel room.
"It'll be a long season in the hotel room. We are extremely lucky to be in the position. We haven't got to that stage where it can be monotonous.
He said he is doing a few things in his down-time just to make sure that he is occupied.
"I am doing a few things, trying to learn some Spanish, and few other things that I'd like to keep private.
"I am just making sure I am using my time wisely, and not getting bored - making time for family, friends, just keeping contact with people in the outside world."
The Bengaluru FC set-piece story
The Blues have signed Fran Gonzalez in the off-season, after the Spaniard's memorable I-League season for Mohun Bagan last year. Gonzalez is another weapon in the Bengaluru FC set-piece arsenal, which was already strong with the likes of Paartalu, Juanan and Sunil Chhetri last year.
"We don't just whip balls into the box, and hope for the best," Paartalu says.
"With Carles's set-pieces, he has a vision for every player, and a vision for the team. It is never about one person. I'm lucky enough to be on the end of a couple, but there is no way I would've scored those without the movement from others and the space they create," he says.
Bengaluru FC conceded the least goals and scored the most of any team from set-pieces last season, and Paartalu believes that the addition of Gonzalez and Kristian Opseth will only help them further.
"Fran and Kristian are both bigger guys, certainly helps us. It will hopefully take some of the focus off the tallest player in the team, which is me, but everyone has got a role to play," he said.
The Australian connection in the ISL this year
There have been an influx of Australians in the ISL this year, especially with the introduction of the rule to have a mandatory Asian foreigner in ISL squads.
Paartalu said that his phone has been busy in the off-season with calls from various Australian players.
"I have had a lot of calls from a lot of Australian boys since the day I got home in late March.
"There is obviously a lot of uncertainty in the A-League with finances. I just told them what India is like, what to expect and how exciting and fun the league is."
Erik Paartalu enters his fourth season with Bengaluru FC in 2020-21, and by the time his current contract expires, he will have spent five seasons with the Blues, in what has been a storied spell in Bengaluru so far.