But Bengaluru FC, which turns 10 in July, enters Saturday’s final nine of the Indian Super League (ISL) here as an older club because while Mohun Bagan turns 134 this year, ATK Mohun Bagan was formed in January 2020. And yet you understood why ATK Mohun Bagan captain Pritam Kotal, a member of all the aforementioned campaigns, called it another derby or its equivalent and why Sunil Chhetri said: Mohun Bagan and then ATK Mohun Bagan were our most important rivals.
With Roy Krishna, Prabir Das, Sandesh Jingan and Jayesh Rane, Bengaluru FC has players who were with ATK Mohun Bagan, while Ashik Kuruniyan, who returned to training after missing the second semifinal match against Hyderabad FC, has moved on. Former friends for 90 minutes, Kotal said at a beach resort Friday before he and Chhetri shook hands and stood in front of a placard featuring both. In addition to the friendly fire that can ignite competition between teams that have gained form at the right time, Manveer Singh will try to complete his return from injury by winning the ISL finals for the first time in three tries. And Glan Martins – he whose energy is contagious, according to Carl McHugh – will bring vivacity to Goa in a season when Liston Kolako lost his form and FC Goa failed to regain theirs.
In a series of media interviews that lasted longer than the final, including tie-breaks, NorthEast United played an interesting cameo. On Christmas Day, after losing to NorthEast, I told my general manager that 100 percent we would play in the finals, said ATC Mohun Bagan coach Juan Ferrando. It was with a win over a team from the basement of ISL Division 9 that Bengaluru FC began a 10-match winning streak, including two wins over league winners Mumbai City FC. That means that while Mumbai, with 11 straight wins, which is an ISL record, went home, Bengaluru FC is one game away from winning its eighth trophy.
I didn’t want people to think I was here on vacation, Simon Grayson said. A player of Aston Villa’s ISL winner John Gregory and Gareth Southgate’s clubmate, Grayson said he came to India on vacation at the invitation of ISL general manager Martin Bain. Few would have thought that Prabir Das, Roy Krishna and Javi Hernandez, who played in one of the matches I saw, would now be in my team.
Grayson said it took him until early 2023 to get to know 70% of his Indian players. Before that, I knew one, two at the most, he said, looking at Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh.h Sandhu. But what remained constant during the hesitation and the miraculous run was faith. Faith in myself, faith that the players would understand me, and faith that they could follow instructions. Even when we were losing 0-3 to Hyderabad, we knew we were close to making a difference. It also helped that we didn’t make things difficult then, Sandhu said.
ATK Mohun Bagan also had slumps in form, and many first-team players were injured for the season. But they got through it. In every crisis, we learned, Ferrando said. The Catalan sacrificed the game at the back, focused on defensive reliability and believed in his strength in depth. The quality of this team is exceptional, Cotal said. That’s a trait ATK carried over to ATK Mohun Bagan. Like Bengaluru FC, they too have leaders on the field. For example, Kotal, who, according to Ferrando, wanted to take the last penalty in the match against Hyderabad FC.
The teams have won by one goal margin at the league stage, and while ATK Mohun Bagan did well in January, Bengaluru FC got their confidence back. We have decent players who can hurt them, Grayson said. It wasn’t in response to Kotal’s statement that we are the best, but it’s what you want to hear before the finals.