Ogbeche picks his title favourites, backs Kerala youngster to become next Chhetri
In his two seasons in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), Bartholomew Ogbeche has firmly established himself as a fan-favourite in India. The 35-year-old's willingness to leave it all on the field for his team, both for NorthEast United FC in 2018-19 and then for Kerala Blasters FC in 2019-20, not only found him admirers among the two teams' fanbases, but also earned him great respect from supporters and players of rival teams. Of late, Hero ISL fans have also had the opportunity to see their beloved 'Big Bart' in a brand-new avatar, as the goal machine turned pundit for the knockout phases of the ongoing season.
In a recent Facebook Live session with Anant Tyagi, Ogbeche answered several fan questions and shared his thoughts on a wide array of subjects, like his future with Kerala, his love for God's own country, the Hero ISL 2019-20 final, and more. Here are some of the noteworthy highlights from the interaction.
The Hero ISL 2019-20 title set to be decided on March 14 with Chennaiyin FC and ATK FC set to clash in the final. Picking his favourites for the title race, Ogbeche stated, “In my opinion, Chennaiyin FC can win it. I think they found themselves in an improbable situation after the first few matches of the season. They turned things around just at the right time. Now they look unstoppable, juggernauts of sorts. I don’t see them stopping here. I think they will go on with their free-flowing football that Owen Coyle has employed. It will be tough, against a tough opposition, but I see them going all the way."
The Kerala connect and his future with the Blasters
Speaking about his connect with his team and the state of Kerala as a whole, the former World Cupper said, “The thing I love most about Kerala is Kerala Blasters FC. And you have to love Kerala. It's called God's own country for a reason.”
Expressing his admiration for the Kerala Blasters fans, he added, “I must define Kerala fans as simply staggering. If I could give them 11/10, I will do that. It’s hard to come across a fan base like this. Win over ATK (in the opening fixture) would not have been possible without the Manjappada."
Asked about his future with the Blasters, Ogbeche opted to leave it open ended and said, “It’s going to be made known shortly. We have to be patient for a few more days, maybe weeks. It’s not going to take too long.”
The next Chhetri and Indian youngsters
A question doing its round in Indian football recently has been about the potential successor for the talismanic Sunil Chhetri. Faced with the same question from a fan, Ogbeche noted. “I think Sahal Abdul Samad can be the next Chhetri.”
“This season, he hasn’t played as much as he would have wanted to. He is a hard worker. He works very hard even on his bad days. It’s one of his qualities. He is also full of talent. Having seen him closely, I have belief in his abilities and I can say that he can be the next Chhetri,” he added.
Asked his impressions on the Indian youngsters this season, the ace striker noted, “There has been great progress among a lot of Indian players. I have been impressed with Rahul KP and also Jeakson (Singh). Both are magnificent human beings and players and are yet to fulfill their potential. Samuel Lalmuanpuia is also one to look out for in the future. If not from Kerala, I will have to go for Suresh Wangjam from Bengaluru FC. He had a fantastic season.”
The Golden Boot race
The Kerala captain led the Golden Boot race over the past few weeks with 15 goals to his name. However, with Roy Krishna scoring in ATK’s opening goal in the 3-1 semi-final win against Bengaluru FC on Sunday, the coveted award is out of Bart’s reach. The winner will be decided on the final day with Krishna (15 goals) and Chennaiyin’s Nerijus Valskis (14 goals) set to vie for the honour.
Sharing his thoughts on the intriguing race, Ogbeche remarked, "At the start I tipped Ferran Corominas to go ahead but my second pick was always going to be Roy Krishna. He looks like he’s going to go ahead and win it. I think it will be tough for Valskis and I see Roy Krishna going back home with the Golden Boot."