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It’s tough but Bengaluru FC up for the challenge: Mandar Tamhane

Panaji: Mandar Tamhane knows what it takes to build a successful club. The chief technical officer at Bengaluru FC was in the forefront of the club’s early days when they sprang from nowhere to win the I-League on debut. Four years later, India’s most successful club in recent times is rebuilding again, this time as they make their debut in the Indian Super League. Mandar explains the success formula in this interview with TOI during his visit to Goa on Tuesday.

Bengaluru FC were never great fans of the ISL, at least when the league kicked off in 2014. What prompted the shift from I-League to ISL?
For us it was a simple decision. The ISL rules are now much broader in terms of longer league, less foreign players, more Indian players and the likely option of a AFC Cup slot. Our owners have always maintained that we have to build a team which will help Indian football. That’s always been the thought process. Now, if the ISL allows us to do that with their changed format, it’s a no-brainer. The way the ISL is marketed, the kind of visibility that the league enjoys, we would want to be a part of that.

BFC seems to be hit hard with the league decision that allows just two retention and all domestic players mandatorily being picked-up from the draft. How do you start all over again?
That’s a challenge. But we are up for it. When we started the club (in 2014), we didn’t have anyone; we built the team and went on to win the league. We know we have a strong platform. Now, in the current scheme of things, we have four players – two who we have retained (Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh), and two under-21 players. It’s better than how we started. We now have to see how the draft plays itself.

How do you approach the draft?
It’s challenging but we have some experience. In the first year when the draft was held, we represented the likely team from Bengaluru (owned by Sun Group) and chose players for them. These players were later transferred to Chennaiyin FC, who did well in the tournament. We have to take as it comes.

Before the ISL, you have your AFC Cup inter-zone semifinal play-off. All your domestic players will come from the draft later this month, but will that be enough?
That’s tough. You cannot have 17-18 players for the AFC Cup match. We have our youth teams, and we are trying to build a Bengaluru FC B side. We want to catch as many young talent as possible, and there is no restriction on registering them for the AFC Cup. If we feel we need to strengthen in certain positions, we may look at some loans, if possible.How easy, or difficult, was it to retain Sunil and Udanta?

If you go by emotions, you would want to retain everyone. These players have been with us for quite some time. At the end of the day, if the rules are framed by the league, then you need to keep emotions aside and take decisions. We feel keeping Sunil was imperative because he has been the face for us since inception. What he has done with the club and national team is special. We have invested a lot in Udanta and we feel he has a big future going forward. We would have wanted to retain all of them but I think we have taken the right decision.

BFC set the standard in I-League, winning four major trophies and making it to the final of AFC Cup. Is the club aiming to set similar benchmarks in the ISL?
We will continue to do things which we feel are good from a footballing and fans perspective. Our fans have done a lot and our decision making revolves around these things. With the move to ISL, nothing has changed for us. The thought process and strategies will be different because of the rules, but in terms of running a football club, it’s all the same.

BFC is the only franchise to announce four foreign players so far. Any plans for a marquee signing?
All our foreign players are marquees. Whoever delivers on the field is a marquee for us. In terms of how it was before (in the ISL), we can get someone who is a big name but he must perform on the field. I personally believe we already have a marquee player in Sunil. [TOI]

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