Erik Paartalu: Sunil Chhetri had a big role behind me staying back at Bengaluru

Bengaluru FC midfielder Erik Paartalu recently committed his future to the Blues for two more seasons, which will keep him at the club until the end of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2021-22 campaign. In a recent Let’s Football Live session with Anant Tyagi, the Australian ace revealed how Sunil Chhetri had a big part to play behind his decision to stay put with the Hero ISL 2018-19 champions.

The 2019-20 campaign, overall, turned out to be a disappointing one for Bengaluru. Despite reaching the Hero ISL 2019-20 semi-finals, it was the first season since their inception that the club failed to add a silverware to their well-adorned trophy cabinet. Looking back at the season gone by, the Australian commented, “This season was important. As my father often says, you climb the ladder then fall back a few steps but then have to climb back to the top again. The onus now is on us to climb back up.”

“It wasn’t the best of seasons for us and didn’t come with a trophy but what everyone did, including Carles Cuadrat, was nothing short of a miracle. The way we played, goals we scored and conceded. I am sure next season we will do better and show more hunger and desire,” he added.

Chhetri’s influence

Coming to his contract extension, Paartalu revealed, “Sunil Chhetri was a big part too behind me staying back at the club. I heard him talk at Bengaluru’s post-season awards ceremony. He was disappointed at the way the season went. To see someone like him, who has achieved so much, to be so hungry for success, was a big motivating factor and speaks volumes about the culture of the club. Bengaluru haven’t been in this position before where we didn’t win a trophy in a season. It maybe somewhat arrogant to think you’ll win a trophy every single year, no one can guarantee that. But what I can guarantee is fans can expect a huge reaction this season. I want to be a part of that.”

The Bengaluru culture

He also picked out the club’s culture as another defining factor behind his decision and noted, “The club is an infectious place to be around. It’s a real people’s club, hardworking and genuine. Everyone who works at the club is great. The way players are picked is great. It’s always about quality and not just star names. It was evident from the start that I was working with some very hungry individuals at Bengaluru.”

Underlining his personal goals for the upcoming season, the 33-year-old stated, “This is the longest I have ever been at one club. So, this is new territory for me. I always think there’s another gear in me and hopefully I can unleash that in the Bengaluru shirt next season.”

Best friend in the team

Asked to pick his best friend in the team, the Aussie named his midfield partner Dimas Delgado, who too recently signed an extension with the club. “Probably Dimas Delgado. We share a bond both on and off the pitch. I think our understanding on the pitch has blossomed of it. It will be our fourth season together. I think we share a special connect.”

How Bengaluru happened

Paartalu joined the Blues leading up to the Hero ISL 2017-18 season. Reminiscing how the move transpired, the Aussie fondly recollected, “I was at a crossroad in my career at that point. I was with South Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors but wasn’t getting much gametime and was cast aside. I played in Qatar for a few months then was looking to make my next move for footballing reasons, and also for the soul. I have moved around quite a lot in my career and India seemed to be an interesting place to go and play football at. I also knew Cameron Watson, who played at Bengaluru before me, and it was a big plus. Someone of his stature had some very complimentary things to say about the club and my decision was made pretty quickly.”

Life under lockdown

Currently back at his home at Sydney, Australia, Paartalu is spending time with his mom and dad amidst the worldwide lockdown in effect due to the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. “I came back three ways back and was under isolation. It’s been difficult. Everyone is under lockdown. In Australia, however, it’s been not quite as severe as other countries. Hopefully, things settle down soon. With the isolation, I have taken up cooking. I love to do it when the mood is right,” he updated about his life under lockdown.

How it all started

Known for his gritty and physical way of playing, the midfielder also went on to discuss how football sessions at his home’s backyard with his older brother and father shaped him into the player he is today. “My football career started in my backyard, playing with my elder brother and dad. My brother is nine years older than me and I just wanted to be like him. I used to chase him around to get the ball all day. I think that set the foundation for my tenacious and determined nature. I was never technically very sound but am hard working and determined. It compliments my attribute as an athlete and a person.”

Rivals

Answering a fans’ question about the toughest rivals he found himself up against last season, Paartalu picked, “I think Mumbai was tough for us this season. They beat us both times we faced off. I think playing against Rowllin Borges is always tough. Whenever he is on the team sheet, you know they are going to be solid. We sort of play in similar positions so it’s hard to face off against him in particular. We will have to try something different against Mumbai next season.”

Team of the Season

Unsurprisingly, Borges also made it into Paartalu’s Team of the Season. With fans picking their best XIs from the 2019-20 season on the indiansuperleague.com website, big Erik enthusiastically pitched in with his own version during the interaction. “Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in goal, Prabir Das in right back. Mourtada Fall and Lucian Goian as centre backs. Nishu Kumar as left back. The way he covers for Sunil Chhetri is fantastic and has developed brilliantly this season. He will be something special in the future.”

“Borges as the defensive midfielder with Hugo Boumous and Rafael Crivellaro in front of him. For the three forwards, I will go for my good friend David Williams on the left, Roy Krishna centrally and Jackichand Singh on the right,” he stated.

Youngsters who caught the eye

Sharing his thoughts on the breakthrough stars from the season, Paartalu opined, “Sumit Rathi for me was a player who came up leaps and bounds. There’s something European about the way he plays. It seems he can go to another level. He is an athlete and so composed on the ball. Suresh Singh Wangjam was also so good. He is adaptive and can perform whatever role he is asked to perform. He is so quick to cover ground, he’s like a little Bull hence he has been given the nickname El Torito by the fans.”

For the fans

With the world in a unprecedented state, Paartalu ended the live with a special message for the Blues’ fans. “It’s a difficult time for everyone and we need to support everyone else around the world. Wish I was in Bengaluru and could see you guys. We’re thinking of you guys here, including my family. Stay safe, stay home. Football can wait for a bit, but we need to come out of the other end of this together.”

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