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Ashley Westwood, 37, is manager of Bengaluru FC, who are top of the Indian I League. As a player, he won the FA Youth Cup with Manchester United, before going on to play for Crewe, Bradford, and Sheffield Wednesday, among others. As a coach, he's been assistant to Michael Appleton at Portsmouth, Blackpool, and Blackburn. Here, he talks about life in India, and learning from Sir Alex Ferguson...
When my agent told me about the job in India, I was a little bit sceptical. I'd been working in the Championship - was India a backwards move? Was it bad for my career? But I spoke to Michael Appleton, chatted to a few chief executives in England, spoke to the English FA, and decided to apply. I haven't looked back since. I've gained some fantastic knowledge and experience.
Bengaluru FC is a new club, set up last summer in Bangalore. The franchise is owned by the JSW Group, which is a huge, multi-billion dollar steel and energy company in India. But they didn't try to sell me an oil painting: they told me it's a new club, there wasn't much here, and a lot of things needed setting up and organising. We started from scratch, really. It was a blank canvas.
When I arrived, I walked into a training facility that was two inches thick with dust. So I went into the city and found a nice gym. I sorted out full-time chefs, a kitchen, stretching rooms, meeting rooms. We designed the dressing rooms so they're like something in England - plasma screens at half-time, Apple Macs hooked up, everything you'd expect at a top English club.
When we play away, the facilities aren't always fantastic, but we make sure there's no moaning culture. The stadiums are good, the pitches are fine, so there's nothing to blame. We're lucky to have supportive owners that pay for the best hotels, and they allow me to arrange the travel. No one sticks their nose in and says "You can't do this" or "You can't do that", so everything is good.
I brought over two players from England. John Johnson, who came through at Middlesbrough and was captain at Northampton, and Curtis Osano, who came through at Reading and played for Rushden, Luton, and AFC Wimbledon. They're two centre-halves, 25 or 26, athletic, and they're good boys. They integrate well with the Indian players. They didn't come over with a swagger.
I actually held interviews with 15 or 20 players in London, who we might have been interested in bringing over. That might sound degrading - asking professional footballers to interview - but we had to get it right. You're only allowed three foreigners, plus one from Asia, and we already had Johnny Menyongar, who's a Liberian America. So there were only two spots. We couldn't mess up.
I used the interviews to judge the players' character. It's no good moving to India, then, two months later, saying they can't handle it. I wanted to know about their families, their wives, whether they had children. Will they be going out drinking? Will they apply themselves? Is the missus going to be on the phone every two minutes, saying they need to come home? It was a case of looking each other in the eye and making a promise: that we weren't going to quit at the first hurdle.
Because it's a new club, we didn't have the pick of the Indian players. When we were formed, most players had clubs, and we had a low budget. Sunil Chhetri, who's the Indian captain, was the only regular I League player we had. So our signings were all more or less second division players. But the players have been brilliant, their attitude is fantastic, and we're top of the league after 16 games.
The standard over here is very good - it has surprised me, to be honest. The application from the players is fantastic. They listen to everything, they take everything on board. Without sounding disrespectful, no-one's got an opinion. If you tell them there's a gym session at - say - 9pm, they'll be there at quarter to. I'm not saying that's what we do, because we don't. But that's their attitude.
You get a lot more improvement from an Indian player than someone in the Championship on 40 grand a week. As long as you respect them, they're willing to learn, and that's why we're improving. But it's not a case of we say "jump", and they jump. We show them it's working - we use the Nike Sparq system (which tracks progress), and they can see their improvement in black and white, from pre-season, to mid-season, to now. And we're winning games, which helps.
The Bengaluru fans are fantastic. We started from scratch, and yet we've probably got the most passionate set of supporters. They're certainly the most vocal. If you go to our games, it's comparable to football anywhere in the world: singing, chanting, a fantastic atmosphere. We put the big screens up, we've got hoardings, we've got an MC before the game. At away games, the atmosphere can be a lot quieter, so we're hoping other Indian clubs follow our lead. In fact, one of the reasons players want to sign for us is the atmosphere at home games.
I leave the house at six in the morning, and don't get back until seven-thirty or eight the evening. My wife is over here, and she barely sees me! But I've not come here to dip my toe in the water - if you want to be successful, you've got to work. There are always games to analyse, videos to watch.
There are other clubs that turn up for training, drop their bags by the pitch, train for one and a half hours, and they're done. That's it. So you can do a two-hour day, or you can do a 12-hour day. Some foreign coaches come over, don't put the work in, and they're gone after three or four months.
As a player, I was always coaching on the pitch. I was centre-half, very vocal, and I'd usually end up with the armband at some point. When I was 31 or 32, I started doing my coaching badges. It's a long process if you do them with the English FA - you're talking five years to complete the UEFA A Licence from scratch - and I finished mine last year, which was perfect timing.
Sir Alex Ferguson had a real aura about him. I started my career at Manchester United - I won the Youth Cup in 1995 - and when he entered the room, you knew he was there, just by his shadow. That's something I've tried to take from him. At Crewe, Dario Gradi was very good technically, getting his points across on the training ground. And towards the end of my career, Colin Calderwood at Northampton was a good man-manager. So I take little bits from everyone.
As a coach, it's good to think back to being a player. So when I run sessions I say to myself: "What would I, as a player, think of that?" And if it would do my head in, I try to change it. I never want to stop learning. As soon as the season finishes here, I'll fly back to England, visit a few clubs, make sure I'm not missing anything new on the training ground. If I keep working, I'm sure I'll be successful.
Do I enjoy it in India? Definitely. Wherever you are, whatever the standard, if you see improvement, then it's rewarding. I signed a two-year contract, and I want to finish the job off. Without sounding too big-headed, we're trying to lead the way in India. On the field, off the field, we want to set the standard. It's a growing club with ambition, and as a coach or a player, that's where you want to be.
Follow Bengaluru FC here.