BENGALURU : “I will miss all your songs, your banners — many of which have inspired me and the team — and most importantly your love that I felt across that athletic track and all the way to the dugout every single time,” Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca said in a letter to the fans as he decided against renewing his two-year contract with the club on Thursday.
Roca’s departure is a big blow for the Blues and Indian football. The 53-year-old soft-spoken gentleman joined Bengaluru in July 2016. Roca brought in his La Masia values along — humility and faith in the youth — a philosophy which seemed odd in a country that had only trusted the big names. Under Roca’s tutelage, that perception was about to change.
It was not like Bengaluru played like Barcelona but they definitely learnt how to keep possession, control the flow of the game and get the desired results. A perfect example was the match against Johor Darul Ta’zim, the then reigning AFC Cup champs. Led by Sunil Chhetri’s brilliance, Benglauru had humbled the Malaysian champs 3-1 to reach the AFC Cup final, a first by an Indian club. Roca’s boys did what had been a distant dream for many. His side failed in the final hurdle but that effort has instilled fresh belief among Indian clubs.
“We are really sad about Roca leaving. We would have wanted him to stay as long as he wanted. We had been in talks with him for the last three months or so but he had his reasons and we could not convince him to stay. We had to respect his decision,” said Mustafa Ghouse, Bengaluru CEO.Not everything was plain sailing though as Roca did have early hiccups. In his first year at helm, Bengaluru finished fourth in the I-League, the worst in the club’s history. Players struggled to adapt to his playing style but after finding the right combination of players in the ISL this season, his side were exceptional.
Bengaluru finished the ISL league stage with an eight-point lead. However, a bad day in the final and an individual brilliance from Mailson Alves deprived Bengaluru the title.Roca still walks away with two trophies in his two-year tenure — Federation Cup and Super Cup. Youngsters like Udanta Singh and Nishu Kumar thrived under him while he also instilled a style that helped get the best out of Chhetri, Lenny Rodrigues and Harmanjot Khabra, Rahul Bheke and Subhasish Bose. “It would be difficult to replace a man like Roca. But we would be looking forward to a coach who can continue the values he has instilled in the club — on and off the pitch. We are looking to shortlist a few candidates for the job in the due course,” Mustafa said.
From the management perspective, Bengaluru are still learning the dynamics of Indian Super League and have shown enough promise. Having gotten past the group stage, AFC Cup is their priority now. In a mammoth task of playing two tournaments simultaneously, Roca has managed his squad well to take his side so far. A triumph will boost India’s MA rankings and can potentially open up an additional AFC slot next season.
“The worst outcome of ISL final was no AFC Cup next year. But we don’t have a hand in it. What we can do is to push as far as possible and see how things are,” Mustafa said.