Time for Bengaluru FC to address over-reliance on Sunil Chhetri

Goal.com

On Wednesday, Bengaluru FC became the first Indian club to be eliminated from the AFC Cup playoffs after they succumbed to Maldives-based Maziya SC in the penalty shootout.

The Indian Super League (ISL) defending champions entered the second leg with a 2-1 deficit, but the aggregate scoreline read 4-4 after 120 minutes of football at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. It was a Sunil Chhetri free-kick in the last minute of extra-time that delayed Bengaluru’s elimination by a few minutes. In fact, the Blues’ attack received a massive upgrade when the veteran skipper came on for Udanta Singh in the second half.

That 35-year-old Chhetri was their best player on the pitch by a mile, despite playing his first game after about 20 days injured begs for questions to be asked. It’s natural for a team to rely on their best player, but the extent to which Bengaluru have depended on Chhetri’s consistency calls for some scrutiny.

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The departure of Venezuelan hitman Miku left a gaping hole in Bengaluru’s attack, one they not been able to fill. Carles himself admitted that renewing the star player was not financially viable and this has hurt the club.

“We had a very good squad last season, but we are missing an important player like Miku. The management decided that there was not enough money to pay for a player like that,” the Spanish gaffer commented earlier in December.

Miku’s like-for-like replacement Manuel Onwu failed to score a single goal in three months. However, everything he has touched has turned into goals after he joined Odisha FC on loan. The Spanish striker scored seven goals and provided two assists in four games at his new club, finding the net at least once every game.

Udanta Singh Bengaluru FC FC Goa ISL 6
Udanta Singh Bengaluru FC FC Goa ISL 6

Where was this prolificacy when the player donned blue? The expectations are different at both clubs and Onwu was under more pressure to perform while at Bengaluru. But the goals he has scored so far suggests that it could have had more to do with the service he received, especially from the wings.

Onwu relies on good deliveries into the box and likes to dispatch it first time. While he has enjoyed incredible support from Nandha Kumar and Jerry Mawihmingthanga at Odisha, the wingers at Bengaluru starved him of goal-scoring opportunities.

This then passes the buck to Udanta Singh and Ashique Kuruniyan, who have been very poor in all aspects of their game in attack this season. The former has scored just one goal this season, failing to find the back of the net since registering himself on the scoresheet against FC Goa back in October. Ashique is yet to score a goal and has one assist to his name.

With Onwu failing to make a mark, the Blues roped in Deshorn Brown and later signed Kevaughn Frater as a replacement for Raphael Augusto. While the two have three goals between them in the ISL, they are yet to convince that they can make a difference.

Currently, Bengaluru have Chhetri on nine goals, followed by Brown and Erik Paartalu on two each in the ISL. This degree of over-dependence on one player at a top club is simply unacceptable. More so, when the player in question is 35 years old.

With most players in attack failing to click, the fingers automatically point at the coach. Was the change in the system in line with the style of play of the new signings in attack? Was the system designed to get the best of the players at his disposal? Should he have ventured in the transfer market for wingers? Did he have enough backing from the management to get the players he required?

In fact, they did bring a winger in Nili Perdomo who also is yet to sparkle in the ISL. Despite the club not being at their best, Cuadrat deserves credit for guiding Bengaluru to the play-offs.

Now, Cuadrat has two (possibly three) games to salvage the season. Regardless of the results, it could be a busy summer for Bengaluru in the transfer market.

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