On Wednesday evening, Bengaluru FC announced that they had parted ways with head coach Carles Cuadrat.
Cuadrat, who won ISL 2018-19 with BFC, had been at the club for four and a half years, two and a half as a head coach and two as an assistant to Albert Roca.
We try to decode the surprise mid-season announcement.
Immediate reasons behind the sacking
The results have been decent, but for a while now the performances haven't. Even the carefully worded press release that accompanied the news made it pretty clear it wasn't about much else: "We feel the club needs to head in a new direction - one where the ethos and philosophy of Bengaluru FC begins reflecting again. While we enjoyed success with Carles in the past, we felt there was a departure from the philosophy that we hold true this season."
Last season, BFC finished third in the league stage on the back of a brilliant defence that conceded just 13 goals in 18 matches. They did, though, only score 22.
That malaise, that dearth of creativity and coherent attacking play had continued onto this season. There were still goals coming from set-pieces, but not much from open play. Chances were not easy to come by, and the forward play was slow and predictable. Against their last three opponents, these weaknesses were highlighted brutally. None of Jamshedpur, ATK Mohun Bagan or Mumbai City had to break a sweat to beat them.
The departure from his previous boss' Albert Roca's football-on-the-front-foot philosophy had been surprising but gradual, and with the results coming there had been little to question. Once that came unstuck, it appears Cuadrat's position slowly became untenable. With the management apparently feeling that there were no signs of improvement -- especially in terms of attacking play -- their ruthlessness came to the fore with the mid-season decision.
Was it the right decision?
The playing style was down to the coach. His expertise in set-piece management was evident, while his first season as full-time coach did see some pretty football. Players like Rahul Bheke and Nishu Kumar upped their game, and that back four (five, including Gurpreet Singh Sandhu) was arguably the best in the land. Suresh Singh Wangjam's development and deployment in central midfield is also noteworthy.
The problems started further forward. The departure of Miku last season was a massive blow -- even the simple things weren't happening properly last season -- and the sight of Sunil Chhetri, starved of service and frustrated at the world was becoming more and more common. The new signings have underwhelmed, as have the old guns tasked with sparking creativity. The squad is ageing and in desperate need of a refresh.
A new manager will probably get BFC a bounce -- that's natural -- but long-term investment in the squad remains key. BFC's decision will now need to be backed by firm action for it to be truly vindicated.
Who will coach BFC now?
Naushad Moosa, assistant to Cuadrat and part of the coaching team for over four years now will stand in.
Moosa was head coach at Air India for a short three-month stint in 2013. Since then he has been working mainly with youth-level sides, at Pune FC and now, Bengaluru FC.
His presence will help the squad's togetherness, and if he can inspire the players, he may well go from interim to long-term choice.
Who could be a potential replacement?
The club say they have started the search for a replacement, but to find one who will "further the philosophy and style" that management has spoken about will take some sharp scouting. Even more so considering it's mid-season, worldwide. Their decisiveness in letting Cuadrat go will need to be matched in the hiring of a replacement -- especially with another tryst in the AFC Cup beckoning.
With Albert Roca -- Cuadrat's former boss and the pioneer of Bengaluru's 'philosophy and style' -- a part of the coaching staff at FC Barcelona, there aren't all that many readymade replacements available.
Josep Gombau -- another product of La Masia's prolific coach-making assembly line and formerly of Odisha FC -- is one. He has a firm belief in the philosophy, trusts youngsters and has experience in Indian football.
Eelco Schhatorie, formerly of East Bengal, NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters and now an expert on the ISL broadcast, is a divisive figure but ticks many of the boxes -- if BFC are looking for an immediate replacement.
Other names with experience in Indian football such as Ashley Westwood (BFC's first coach), Phil Brown (formerly Hyderabad FC and now a broadcast expert), and Stephen Constantine (former Indian national team coach) could be mentioned, but the clear message of following Roca's 'style and philosophy' indicates they would not really be in contention.