We’ve got strong characters to deal with the atmosphere in Chennai: BFC head coach Grayson

Bengaluru FC head coach Simon Grayson is looking forward to the challenge as his side gear up for their first away match of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season against Chennaiyin FC, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on Friday.

This will be the first of the three away games that the Blues will play in October, followed by clashes against Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC. Grayson is well aware of the threat Chennaiyin FC pose, as the two-time champions came out with a positive win over ATK Mohun Bagan despite a quiet opening half. The Englishman felt the away atmosphere in Chennaiyin FC could be a challenge, but backed his team to overcome it.

Defender Aleksandar Jovanovic also attended the press conference as he spoke about adapting to BFC’s defense, the conditions in India, and much more.

Here are the excerpts from Grayson’s press conference:

Bengaluru FC will be playing three straight away games. How are you looking at it?

The atmosphere on Saturday was unbelievable for us, and that's what we'll have to deal with the opposition (Chennaiyin FC) having their first home game as well (on Friday). It’s part and parcel of the (Hero ISL) calendar and it’s about how you deal with the fixtures. We're going there with the same intent that we had when we played at home, to try and win the game. Full respect to Chennaiyin FC and they had a great result in the first game. We want to be positive, and keep building on what we've been doing. We’ve got quite a lot of work to do, but I genuinely believe that we will get better collectively as a team. Going away is a tough test for us, but we’ve got strong characters that can hopefully deal with the atmosphere that is thrown at us.

In terms of preparation for an away game, how different is it?

Our preparation isn’t very different if we’re playing at home. We’ll train at home and then we will fly to Chennai. It’s something to get used to in the long run. Our preparations have been good. Recovery days and the days off have been since the weekend. We have a lot of work on the training pitch and we’re ready for a tough test against Chennaiyin FC. We’re certainly looking forward to it based on the result (against NorthEast United FC), but ultimately we know they are looking forward to it (as well). We’ve got a couple of extra rest days compared to them, so all our preparations have been good.

Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC have had a colourful rivalry. How do you analyse it and what do you say to the players before such a game?

I think you've got to enjoy it and thrive on it. I used to enjoy playing in front of a lot of fans, it gets your adrenaline going and lifts your concentration levels up. The adrenaline flows a bit more because of the noise and excitement. It's our job, no matter when or where we go, we’ve got to make sure we contain the home crowd. That will be the first part of our goal. If you look at the games that have happened so far, Odisha FC couldn’t handle the opening minutes against Jamshedpur, and Chennaiyin FC couldn’t do the same against ATK Mohun Bagan. But both Odisha FC and Chennaiyin FC stayed in the game and got positive results. We’ve got a clear idea of what we need to do to manage the entire game, not just supporters, but also the minutes on the pitch.

Do you talk to the players about the rivalry between the two teams or is it just another game for you?

For me, it’s just another game. I understand the rivalry, but I've not sampled it between the supporters and the clubs. It's hard for me to have a feeling for it like how we do the comparisons back in England, because I have been there for a long time. But it’s not that I don’t get what the supporters or the club is telling me. The players, they're the ones that have played the big games, and they are the ones that will be crossing the white line on Friday. Sometimes you use the local games, and games against rivals as a motivation to have the bragging rights the following day, regardless of wherever you play.

How much are you looking forward to the rivalries against East Bengal, ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters?

That’s part of the experience of being here, as well all the coaching we do, and playing in a new league. Sampling the rivalries, the passionate supporters. I sampled the home supporters the other night (in Bengaluru), and I loved every minute of the game. It’ll be a different type of atmosphere and occasion against Chennaiyin FC, but one that we will relish and enjoy. We can enjoy even more if you get the three points, which we’re setting out to do. It’s all part of the experience after I made the decision to come to India in the first place, and I can’t wait for the real big games to come along, the atmospheres, and sample one game (at a time). We’ve got another 19 to go, and they are all going to be very similar.

Do you have to control your emotions in the dugout?

I've been a manager for 20 years, so I'm passionate. I won't show it as much as some other people. But I want to win every game, and I'm passionate about everything. I like to think I can control my emotions. But I may be proved wrong over the course of the Hero ISL season if I slip out of the mentality I should be in and normally am in.

Set-pieces have always been a big part of Bengaluru FC. How important is it to alter the approach when it comes to set-pieces?

We've done a lot of work regarding that on the training pitch. It was great to score the other night for Alan (Costa), and he scored in the Durand Cup as well. We will work on variations through the season. We've got to take advantage of some big players in our team, height-wise. We’ve got some big players in Sandesh (Jhingan), Aleks (Jovanovic), Alan, Bruno (Ramires). (In) Roy (Krishna), Sunil (Chhetri) and Sivasakthi (Narayanan), we’ve got some good poachers as well, and when players like Javi (Hernandez) and Roshan (Naorem) can deliver the ball well, you’ve got to utilise it.

You don’t get any extra goals for scoring from open play, so we got to make use of it. Now we’re out of Covid restrictions, you can spend a little more working on these things. Set pieces are vital, but we don't want to be over reliant on them because we want to be scoring from open play. I thought we had some decent (set-piece) opportunities against NorthEast United FC, some good combination play as well. But if we get some good opportunities, we want to capitalise. Hopefully our variations that we're working on will work somewhere along the line.

Here are the excerpts from Jovanovic’s press conference:

You’re the new centre-back in the back three alongside Alan Costa and Sandesh Jhighan. How has it been adapting to the defence with them?

Football is an international language, so everyone knows the job at hand and what they need to do. It's just about gelling together, we've adapted pretty well. We've got a healthy competition in our squad. In training and in games, we're putting in 110% and fighting for our place in the eleven. And when we’re playing, we are trying to keep a clean sheet as much as possible.

You’ve played in different conditions across India. Is that something you’re facing for the first time, the extremes of it? 

From my experiences, I've played in different types of conditions. I have played in Thailand for a year as well which has hot conditions. But I guess, in the same country you don't get those extremes. In Kolkata, it was quite hot, in Bangalore it's nice. It's a challenge to adapt, when you go from one place to another, but it is what it is, and it's the same for every team.

Bengaluru FC is the only team in the Hero ISL who have a clean sheet. How important was it to begin with a clean sheet?

Every time we're in training, we come together and try to keep the score at zero. If we do that, it's like our own little bonus or goal. Getting it (clean sheet) in the game where it matters is a massive plus. When you keep the score at zero, it’s like we have scored or won the game. We like to keep a clean sheet. We want our attackers to score one and we think our job is done.

Your impressions on Chennaiyin FC, who have a new coach and new players?

I thought Chennaiyin FC didn't really come out to play in the first half (against ATK Mohun Bagan), but they came out in the second half and they got the result. They've got a few really big boys, so do we for that matter. They play very direct. They leave themselves a little bit open, but that’s their style. I'm sure it'll be an interesting game.

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