Erik Paartalu: The ISL is very competitive, doesn’t allow room for a bad spell
Hero Indian Super League (ISL) debutants Bengaluru FC had added depth to their squad by signing defensive midfielder Erik Paartalu earlier during the pre-season. The two-time Hero I-League champions will want to start with a bang, and the 31-year-old Australian is deemed to be the perfect fit to anchor their midfield. Paartalu has had stints in the A-League with Brisbane Roar and Melbourne City, winning the 2010-11 A-League Grand Final with the former, having also scored in that match. The lanky 6’4” player, who is in fact of Estonian descent, took time to catch up with indiansuperleague.com to chat about his new venture.
On why he chose to join the Blues, Paartalu was quick to point out the team’s success in the country.
“I chose this (signing for Bengaluru FC) because of the chance to win something in Asia,” he said. “I firmly believe we can win silverware this season as the club has had some success in the past and I'd love to make history with them this year.”
When asked about his experience so far with his new team, the Australian seemed happy at how things are panning out.
“My experience so far has been great. The club has made a huge effort to help me settle into life in India. We had a great few weeks in Spain; won the first leg in our AFC Cup game and now it's about going as far as we can in the AFC whilst keeping in mind the ISL,” he said brightly.
While most of his teammates have impressed him, Paartalu pointed out three of Bengaluru FC’s main stars who stood out.
“Everyone has impressed me to be quite honest, but obviously guys like Sunil (Chhetri), Udanta (Singh) and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) are the standouts,” he admitted. “There are a few others really working hard behind the scenes and I'm sure a few more will be joining those three in the national team soon.”
The midfielder has played in various clubs across the Asian subcontinent, as well as in native Australia. How different does he reckon the football in India will be?
“In Australia, we tend to play a cautious build-up game which gets fast in the final third,” he explained. “In India, I see it being very fast all over the pitch. Teams will be very difficult to prepare for because all the teams have new players, so that will be a challenge.”
Elaborating further, he said: “I've been lucky enough to play in five different Asian countries in my career and every single one of those leagues have had their challenges - good and bad things. The ISL is a reasonably new league and this year it is completely revamped, so there is an unknown factor.”
Paartalu also pointed out that having a strong, passionate crowd support is important for any team, and it also provides incentive for a large viewership which is good for the market.
“The crowd factor will be another massive difference. In Australia, the big matches can attract about 50,000 people but usually there is an average turnout of 12,000-15,000. In India, every stadium will be packed. I think the passion from the fans is a huge positive as the television audience this year will be many more people than in previous years, which opens the market a whole lot more.”
The ISL newcomers of course, have the support of the famous West Block Blues, who have been passionately rooting for their team since its inception. Paartalu was especially impressed with them.
“The West Block Blues have been extraordinary. From the moment I signed, they were messaging me on Instagram welcoming me to the club,” he revealed. “Then they were at the airport when I arrived. You have to see it first hand to really understand how loud those guys are in the stands at our matches.”
Finally, when asked about what his expectations were from the ISL, Paartalu admits that the team will have to work hard to consistently get results, given a longer format this time around.
“It's going to be a very strong competition with big crowds, some big names and it's a league that doesn't allow room for any bad spells. You have 18 or so games to be consistent and to try and pick up as many points as possible. You can't lose too many games so the team that is the most consistent will be the winner,” he averred.