Expect a tough encounter if foreigners do well for East Bengal: Fran Gonzalez before ISL Derby

He left the city and the club after a triumphant season last year. Even though many days have gone by, Fran Gonzalez’ heart still beats for Kolkata and Mohun Bagan. The self-proclaimed Mariner that he is, Gonzalez wanted to continue playing for his beloved club, but destiny had other plans for him.

‘Refused’ and ‘betrayed’ as he feels sometimes at Gostha Pal Sarani, he finally moved to Bengaluru. Now, on the eve of the ISL derby, he shared his thoughts exclusively with the Indian Express. (Read in Bengali)

How has your life been since moving to Bengaluru? Can we expect you to return to Kolkata if offered in future?

This season is one that is being conducted in strange circumstances with the bio-bubble and empty stadiums and it isn’t easy for anyone involved. But it is all part of the experience. My switch to Bengaluru FC has been challenging but also fulfilling in so many ways. It would have been nice to experience the city, its culture, the fans that I have heard so much about and to be able to play at the Kanteerava. But like I said, it has been a strange time and season owing to the pandemic and we have to take it all in. I always love collecting experiences through football and this has been a special one too.

About a return to Kolkata in the future, who knows? At this moment, I am committed to Bengaluru and to help the club finish the season on the best possible note. Once that’s done, we’ll then see.

Do you miss Kolkata and it’s football? How is it different from the style at Bengaluru FC?

Definitely. I had a great year with Mohun Bagan last season where we won the championship. I only have fond memories of the city, the club, its fans and all the love and respect they showed me. Style-wise, both the clubs have their own approach to the game and as professionals, you have to adapt. A lot depends on the coach, the players around and the way the club wants to play.

What does Mohun Bagan mean to you? You have been a passionate Mariner and a darling to Mohun Bagan fans. Have you shrugged off the tags bestowed on you or are you willing to continue to be a Mariner forever?

Like I said earlier, I have only fond memories from my time at Mohun Bagan. The fans welcomed me and made my time at the club and in the city, special. That season, everything we achieved and the love of the fans will always stay in my heart.

ATK-MB to play East Bengal in the second derby soon. Who do you think will have the last laugh? Will you miss playing derby and give us a brief on your favourite derby experience from your whole career?

The derby was a special experience for me and I feel it is the presence of the fans that contributes so much to it. The last derby I was part of, we ended up winning 2-1 and that was a fantastic day. This season, ATK Mohun Bagan seem to be flying high with so many consistent performances. They are a strong unit and possess quality in every area on the pitch and that’s the reason why they are on top of the table. East Bengal, like us, are going through a tough season. However, they do have a lot of quality with their foreigners and if they all turn up, it could be a very tough encounter.

ATK MB have been a dominant force this season. What has made them so strong?

As I mentioned earlier, they are a very compact and strong unit. They possess players with individual brilliance and they combine well as a team. They have been churning out results even if it is late in the game, and all these aspects come together to put them on top of the table.

What’s your take on coach Robbie Fowler?

I don’t even know him

What went wrong for Bengaluru FC this season? Once a winning team now stumbling on each match. How has the team changed since the departure of coach Carles Cuadrat?

It has been a difficult season owing to so many factors. But this is football and it is bound to happen even to the best teams. As a team, we fell short on many occasions. Then there were injuries to so many key players throughout that didn’t help. However, at the time of doing this interview, we are still within a mathematical chance of making the play-off stages and we have been showing some good character in the last few games. Carles Cuadrat has been at the club for five years, and maybe the management felt the club needed a new, fresh perspective. The circumstances have meant that the youngsters have had to step up and I always enjoy trying to help them out, share my experience with them, because they are the future of this club. It’s been difficult, but it has taught all of us so much.

You were supposed to join Kerala Blasters reuniting with former coach Kibu Vicuna before ISL. What led you to join Bengaluru instead of Kerala?

As everyone knows I had another season contract with Mohun Bagan and I couldn’t sign with another club until October. It was a very long transfer window for me and my family with a few options to choose. Anyway I am happy to be here with Bengaluru, I have learned a lot these few months, it made me even stronger.

How have you utilised lockdown last year? What has been your pandemic experience?

As a professional footballer, you’re always traveling and you don’t necessarily do it along with your family. So I made the most of the lockdown by spending enough time with my partner and my son. After a successful last season, I felt I needed some time off to relax and take my mind away from football for a bit and that’s exactly what I did. I am constantly trying to learn new things, broaden my knowledge on different subjects and gain new perspectives. The lockdown helped do so much of that. Of course, it has been such a difficult time for the world and it also makes you feel grateful for good health and a comfortable life.