Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson feels the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 final against ATK Mohun Bagan will be a great advert for the league and Indian football as both sides square off at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Saturday.

Both sides have made it to the final after thrilling penalty shootouts in the semi-finals. The Blues beat League Shield winners Mumbai City FC 9-8 on penalties, after the scores were tied 2-2 on aggregate over two semi-final legs. Meanwhile, ATK Mohun Bagan got the better of Hyderabad FC by winning 4-3 on penalties, following two goalless draws in the semi-finals.

While ATK Mohun Bagan are chasing their first Hero ISL title, having reached the final for the second time in three seasons, Bengaluru FC would be hoping to claim their second Hero ISL title, having previously won it during the 2018-19 season.

Grayson was aware of ATK Mohun Bagan’s strengths, but has full belief in his team to get the job done on Saturday.

“ATK Mohun Bagan have had a fantastic run of results to get to the final. To get to the semi-finals.. You have to be a very good team. Defensively, they are very solid. They have got some good players and good competition for places, where you can leave Brendan Hamill out of the team, who has been a mainstay for them,” Grayson said in the pre-match press conference.

“They’ve got some talented individuals who can really hurt the opposition. Dimitri Petratos and Hugo Boumous and many other players. We will respect them and I am sure they will know that we have got some players in our team who can hurt their defensive line and their team. Hopefully, when we talk about the game on Saturday, it will be a great advert for the Hero ISL and Indian football. It’s a positive game and hopefully, we come out on top,” he added.

Bengaluru FC were languishing in the bottom half of the table at the end of 2022. But they scripted an incredible turnaround, finishing fourth in the standings. The Blues recorded a 10-match winning run in 2023, which saw them beat Kerala Blasters FC in the knockout game and then Mumbai City FC in the semi-finals to reach the Hero ISL final for a third time.

“It is the belief (which has got us to where we are now). Belief in myself, that I was doing the right things. Belief in the players, that they would understand that I was doing the right thing and get the results that they deserved. And then believe in the instructions and get the results themselves. It was a massive part for us. I'm no different now than when we lost three-four games on the trot. I'm still positive with the players. We don’t get too carried away and not get too low. That has been the big thing I have try to put across the players. We still have to be humble and hardworking. On Friday, in training and on Saturday in the game to achieve what we need to do. Confidence has played a big part as well,” Grayson added.

ATK Mohun Bagan head into the final after going unbeaten in their previous five games. During this run, they have kept four clean sheets while conceding just one goal.

The Blues will have their task cut out against a side which has conceded the second fewest goals this season. In goal, ATK Mohun Bagan have a reliable figure in Vishal Kaith, who has won the Golden Glove award with 12 clean sheets this campaign.
Both sides have beaten each other in their previous meetings during the league stage.

When asked if the game would be more of a psychological battle than a tactical one, Grayson stated: “It is what happens on the pitch, not in your head. Of course, the psychological aspect plays a part. But I think both teams are in a good place, both teams are confident. It will be basically who earns the right on that pitch, who wants it more, who is going to run more than the opposition, and who is going to come out on top in every 50/50 challenge, who wants to be the hero.”

He added: “There is going to be potentially one hero on Saturday, and I just hope it will be one of the BFC players because that means that we will be lifting the ISL trophy. We will have to give everything we have in our locker to achieve that. I’m sure Juan (Ferrando) is saying exactly the same things to his team, it’s all about who goes out and performs, Play with your head as well as play with your heart, and somewhere down the line, you might need a little bit of luck as well. Luck does play a part, but we can’t be relying on it.”

“The last thing I say to the players right before they go out (before any game), is have no regrets. By the time you wake up the following morning after a big game, you look at yourself in the mirror and you say to yourself that I could not give anymore on that football pitch. Win, lose or draw, you can have no qualms or quarrels about what you have done the night before. If you wake up and look at the mirror and think, ‘I wish I could have run further, tackles more, worked harder, etc’, then you have a problem with yourself. So my message will be exactly the same on Saturday.”