Ashley Westwood, the astute gaffer, has made Bengaluru FC a household name in Indian Football. Within One year, they surged up the ladder and triumphed over the I-League, not only that, they clinched the Hero Federation Cup in next six months. Two I-League trophies in three years underline his calibre and tactical acumen.
He made the Blues a group of tough blokes who have cemented their berth in the ongoing AFC Cup Round of 16, second year on a trot. Having clinched ‘Best Coach of Hero I-League’ second time in three years, the debonair gaffer spoke his heart out to www.i-league.org ahead of the return leg of Hero Federation Cup against Aizawl FC.
It has been your second I-League trophy in three years. How has been your journey so far in India?
As a coach, I can never be satisfied, but I’m pretty happy with the outcomes so far. Had we not conceded in last three minutes on the last of May 2015, it could have been three in three years, the ideal scenario for any club and we had almost achieved it. Trust me, it still hurts us.
Winning the Hero Federation Cup was also another feather in Bengaluru FC’s cap. We had fared decently in our first attempt in the AFC Cup as well. After winning the Hero I-League this year, now our bull’s eye is nothing but to retain the Hero Federation Cup.
Three years back, how did you motivate yourself before joining Bengaluru FC?
I always pushed myself to get success in the most demanding situations, not to lose at any point of time. From my vantage point, it was a gamble to work so far from my country, as I had no experience of plying the trade outside England before joining Bengaluru FC. As a young coach, it always pushed me to get success with a relatively young club and make a mark in the country’s football map.
You have ticked off all the boxes in Indian Football. What do you want to achieve next?
As I stated, defending the Hero Federation Cup is our primary focus now. We have got to the Round of 16 in the AFC Cup, that too after an initial hiccup. Now we have to think one step at a time and we’ll rightly do so.
How do you see the level of Hero I-League changing in last three years?
Primarily, the fitness level has gone up tremendously. As I think, coaches are watching International football more and they are pretty well-equipped now. Tactically they are more aware now and the players are more educated to reciprocate to their coaches. The quality of the foreign players has also improved a lot. As a whole, the competition has gone intense and fierce in last three years.
Having watched Indian Football for last three years, where do you see Indian Football in next five years?
Undoubtedly the quality has gone up in three years. I still remember, injury, cramps were pretty regular which not the case is now. The fitness level has rightly surged up, and mostly the gap between the teams has significantly minimised. People are learning quite fast and most emphatically, all are closely following what we do. The introduction of technology, techniques have pushed the benchmark surely. Definitely, the football in India has grown thick and fast in last three years and it’ll grow from strength to strength in coming years.
What challenges did you face during the wee days with Bengaluru FC?
As a football coach, I’m always ready to confront with new challenges. First, what I had to endure was the new culture of India. The culture is completely different in my country; hence, I had to be pretty conscious all the time so that unknowingly I didn’t hurt anyone. Even still now, I have so many things to learn, to make myself easy with the Indian norms.
Then it comes to the logistics. Logistics always has been a challenge in India, because of its massive periphery. To some points, the travel system is not too much reliable, frankly saying.
Language barrier was another block for us, especially for me as my accent is far from perfect (laughs). Taken as a whole, you have to keep yourself ready to accept challenges and learn from those ones.
After 2013-14, again you have been adjudged as the ‘Best Coach of Hero I-League’. Which personal goal do you want to achieve in India?
I can never be satisfied and I’ll always myself and my team to keep winning and to run the show smoothly. You have to sharpen your skills constantly and keep yourself upgraded through the constant learning process, otherwise, before you could realise, you’ll find yourself straight at the bottom. That’s my sole goal at the moment and I won’t compromise with it, whatsoever happens.
Down the line after five years, where do you want to see yourself?
Frankly speaking, I’m an ambitious coach and definitely, I want to make my name a familiar one in India and anywhere else. Finishing the UEFA-Pro licence is on my to-do list and I’m always eager to learn more, know more. I closely follow English Football and try to apply the nitty-gritty in my strategies. Sean Dyche (Burnley Manager), Chris Neville (England National side fitness coach) are two guys with whom I’m in constant touch with and always try to learn what’s up there to learn in International football. There’s no rocket science in football, you have to strive to keep yourself updated and at par with International football, it’s not an office job but a 24/7 continuous process.
Which football managers from the International arena do you closely follow?
As I told earlier, I’m well acquainted with Sean Dyche. He is doing a terrific job with Burnley and they are on the verge of their second promotion to the EPL in three years. He’s very hard working coach and a tough one indeed. I’m in touch with Michael Appleton, manager of Oxford United FC. They are close to a promotion to League One after a successful campaign throughout the season. He has been a successful player, hence, he understands the player’s philosophy as well. Their methods, the titbits about technicalities are of great value to any football coach like me.
If you say EPL, I try to catch every match and learn from them. When Klopp came to England, I was really fascinated. His presence, his style, and his approach to the game I deeply follow. Then comes Manuel Pellegrini, particularly his man-management style is something deserves great respect. During my Pro-licence training, Brandon Rodgers came during a session and it was really inspiring to get in touch with a bloke of his calibre. That’s where the purpose lies of the coaching licence courses, to learn from the blokes who manage the game at the top level and if I’m not wrong, there are 192 English FA pro-licensed coaches are there around the world.
If not Bengaluru FC, which club do you want to manage in India?
Frankly speaking, I haven’t thought anything apart from Bengaluru FC. It has been a perfect synergy till now. We have both worked closely till now. It’ll be a huge change of heart coaching outside Bengaluru FC.
We’re communicating constantly. But you know, it’s a dynamic process in International football and you have to apt always to adapt to newer challenges. If I get a heart attack tomorrow or get run over on the road, someone else will take the hot seat, isn’t that (laughs)?
by I-League Media