Two minutes into injury time against NorthEast United in Guwahati on Wednesday, Bhutan’s Chencho Gyeltshen soared in the air, turned his body upside down and met Sunil Chhetri’s header near the NorthEast penalty spot with a precise back-volley to salvage a point that maintained Bengaluru’s unbeaten start to the Indian Super League (ISL) season.
Yet, this wasn’t the only reason this goal was special. It points to a bigger role Chencho can play for Bengaluru for the rest of the season. In fact, the goal was just a numerical confirmation of the value-add he has brought to the team after guiding Minerva Punjab to their maiden I-League title last season.
Chencho was an interesting pick from BFC for this ISL. Their AFC player requirement for continental competitions was already fulfilled by Australian Erik Paartalu, so his nationality is unlikely to have played a part. Chencho offered width and pace to Minerva, who played a lot of physical and sometimes attritional football in their I-League win, but all of it centred around winning points and turning matches around on the break. Bengaluru, in contrast, play more possession-based football, and one where players often have to open themselves up to holding up the ball, moving off the ball to create spaces, and creating triangles and quadrangles with teammates to gradually squeeze the opposition.
With Venezuelan striker Miku starting alongside Chhetri, and Udanta Singh often playing along the right, Chencho’s inclusion early on in the season was difficult anyway, with only five foreign players possible, and four of them usually playing in the defence and central midfield alone. Chencho’s first start only came four matches back, following an injury to Miku, and it was significant that Bengaluru won all three of Chencho’s first starts. They won these matches late, and were often under pressure for large parts of the game.
On Wednesday, Chencho came off the bench to replace centre-back Albert Serran in the second half and caused the tiring NorthEast defence problems with his pace, positioning and anticipation right from his introduction. Miku’s return is not an assured thing yet, and with rumours floating again of his keenness to move on, Chencho’s gradual involvement has steadily grown — so much so that he had five shots in their last home game, a 2-1 win against FC Pune City, where each near-miss brought his family watching from the stands to their feet.
The spectacular goal on Wednesday could be a start of something special at BFC.