Roy Krishna began his time at Bengaluru FC (BFC) as he ended at ATK Mohun Bagan – with a goal. Both came in Kolkata, the last goal for maroon and greens was in the 5-2 win against Maziya in the AFC Cup on May 24 and the first for his new club on Wednesday in the 131st Durand Cup. That it fetched a 10-man BFC a 2-1 win against Jamshedpur FC would please everyone connected with the club. That it involved Sunil Chhetri would please them even more.
When Krishna, a golden ball winner and twice the joint-highest scorer in three seasons of the Indian Super League (ISL), joined BFC, his ability to forge a partnership with Chhetri was one of the things talked about. The other was their combined age of 72 which will be 73 on August 30 when Krishna turns 35. BFC will hope there will be no talk about the second and should be chuffed that on the first point, Chettri and Krishna have made a mark in the season opener.
The only way Chhetri and he can get the best out of each other is by pushing each other, said Krishna in an interview. “I don’t need to talk much about Sunil bhai, he’s done wonders for the club and country. I am very fortunate to be playing with him. I have a lot to learn from him but I am also gonna push him.”
Since arriving at ATK in 2019-20, Krishna has 36 goals and 18 assists in 60 ISL games. He also has three goals and one assist in seven AFC Cup games making him the kind of player BFC have missed since Venezuelan striker Miku left in 2019. But Krishna also knows he will have to work harder this time.
“This is my fourth season; teams know me, know my game, my speed and when I will make a run. So, yeah, hopefully under this coach I can get out of my comfort zone,” said the Fijian.
Coach Simon Grayson was one of the reasons why Krishna said he joined BFC. “I think everything happened after speaking to the coach. He made it very clear what he wanted from me and I think as a player I can learn under him a lot,” he said. Krishna is on a one-year contract with the option for renewal.
With ATK and ATK Mohun Bagan, Krishna has showed he can score different kinds of goals: the poacher’s strike; from range; speed, technique and finishing coming together as they did against SC East Bengal in 2020-21; winning and converting penalties. Under Antonio Lopez Habas, Krishna was the focal point. He was that when Juan Ferrando took over as well but as he showed in the AFC Cup, Krishna can also help in the link-up play. And defenders could count on him for help when his team does not have the ball. “With my ex-club, I have a lot of happy memories,” he said.
So what does he need to improve? Krishna has a soft laugh and this isn’t the only time in the Zoom call that he will break into one. “Every day you learn something. I think with more training games and more games such as in the Durand Cup, it is a great opportunity for me to gel with the boys, know their game style and personality. Hopefully, this Durand Cup will help us in the ISL.”
BFC were sixth and seventh in the past two ISL seasons after being third in 2018-19. Then they couldn’t protect a 2-0 lead in the double leg semi-finals against ATK and lost 2-3 with Krishna helping ATK turn things around.
The importance of Javi and Prabir
“This is a club that knows how to win trophies. I am just going to play a small part in hoping to get this club to the position they were before the pandemic. It will help with the fans being back at home,” said Krishna.
The presence of Spanish playmaker Javi Hernandez and full back Prabir Das will be crucial for BFC to be the kind of team that won the ISL in 2018-19, he said. “Javi is the kind of player who knows me. If we get the ball and are moving towards the goal, we will be dangerous. The good thing is he is gelling well with Sunil bhai and Prince (Ibara) as well (in training).”
And Das is special. “He was the first guy I got along with when I came to ATK. He is more than a brother to me. I am happy he is here and he is very happy mentally. Hopefully, this season we can get the best out of him. He has shown what he is capable of,” said Krishna.
It will be a longer season this time with a minimum of 27 games spread over ISL and two cups, the Durand and Super Cup. “Yes, no one is getting any younger so you need to look after yourself better,” said Krishna. Is he as rigid as Chhetri in his diet, fluid intake and sleep? “I am more relaxed,” he said.
Yet barring a hamstring injury that kept him out for six games in ISL 2021-22, Krishna has played nearly every minute over the past three seasons. Good recovery sessions, diet, ice bath and lots of sleep have helped Krishna get through them and it is going to be no different this time, he said.
“I am lucky my wife is here. We have a small one and everyone knows when there is a small one you have less sleep. She looks after her on most days. Of course, I take turns too.”
In an interview to this paper before coming to India in 2019, Krishna had said tracing his roots was one of the reasons why he traded A-League, where he had won the golden boot the seasons prior, for ISL.
“After the first season, I thought I would start the search. Then I got busy. Then, Covid-19 happened and we were in the bubble and everything just went down. Hopefully, this season when we have a break during the World Cup. Fingers crossed,” he said.