Rewind and back to present – Westwood’s impact in ISL and a peek into his Afghanistan stint

Ashley Westwood, Afghanistan coach
Ashley Westwood, Afghanistan coach (PC: X)

It was the 2013 I-League season and a new club, named Bengaluru FC, came onto the Indian football scene, owned by the JSW Group. Former Blackburn Rovers assistant coach, Ashley Westwood became the club’s first-ever manager. India’s current skipper and leader, Sunil Chhetri was also signed from Sporting Portugal B. Incidentally, Chhetri was a part of the 2012 I-League winning team, Churchill Brothers, with Sporting loaning him to the Indian club.    

So, it was a statement signing at that time but there was a question on how Westwood would manage in his first-ever stint in India with a completely new club. But the English manager had different plans as he guided Bengaluru FC to the I-League title in their debut season. Thus, the side became the first-ever club to win that prestigious tournament in their first season.  

Coaching stints in India

In his 3-year stint at Bengaluru FC, he won the I-league one more time and the Federation Cup once. Under his guidance, the team also performed decently in the AFC Cup competition. BFC reached the Round of 16 and the Quarter-Finals respectively in consecutive years. He was named coach of the year by the Football Players Association of India for both the 2013-14 and 2015-16 seasons. 

In 2016, he left the club. After that, Westwood had a stint with the ATK Club. Initially, he was appointed as the Director of Football of the Indian Super League (ISL) side. He also had a stint as an Interim manager. In 2021, The English manager joined the I-League side, RoundGlass Punjab. However, in 2022, he parted ways with them. With both those clubs, he failed to taste any success.

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Ashley Westwood and Sunil Chhetri with I-League Trophy
Ashley Westwood and Sunil Chhetri with I-League Trophy (PC: BFC)

Snubbing Sunil Chhetri during Bengaluru FC days

After making Bengaluru FC the I-League champions in 2013, Chhetri shared a story involving Ashley Westwood in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda. When the team India skipper came to the club, Westwood clearly stated that he would not be a part of the team and that left Chhetri completely shocked.

“So, we came from the SAFF Cup, me and Robin (Singh), and we had our first game coming up against Mohun Bagan, so he called me to the room and said, “You are not going to play the first two games.” I was zapped.”

“He told me exactly why – because Malemnganba was playing really well and it would not be fair to tell him that our captain has come back and he should play. Westwood told me, “Show me something good while training and I will put you there.”

“I was shocked initially because I was not used to this, but thankfully I took it in the right way. I really worked hard on training and after two games, I got my chance. So, this was the first time a gaffer told me “You are not going to be in the team”. 

India vs Afghanistan, 2020 WC Qualifiers
India vs Afghanistan, 2020 WC Qualifiers (PC: X)

Playing Style and Afghanistan stint

Westwood’s playing style has always been technical and pressing towards the opposition when there is a chance. After Abdullah Al Mutairi’s departure, Westwood took the challenge of becoming the head coach of Afghanistan on November 8 2023.

Currently, The Lions of Khorasan are the 158th FIFA-ranked team in the world. Even when Westwood joined the team, 18 players were boycotting the Afghan Football Federation because of allegations of corruption. In the first two World Cup Qualifiers, they suffered two heavy defeats, 1-8 vs Qatar and 0-4 vs Kuwait.

Now, Westwood has named a strong 23-member squad for both the upcoming World Cup Qualifier games against the Blue Tigers, involving plenty of individuals plying their trade in Europe’s lower divisions.    

Afghanistan’s squad for both games vs India:

Goalkeepers: Ovays Azizi, Faisal Khil, Faisal Ahmad Hamidi

Defenders: Zohib Islam Amiri, Mosawer Ahadi, Mahboob Hanifi, Habibulla Askar, Amid Arezou, Sharif Mukhammad, Zelfagar Nzary

Midfielders: Mustafa Azadzoy, Taufee Skandari, Jamshed Asekzai, Omid Popalzay, Jabar Sharza, Rahmat Akbari, Yama Sherzad, Siar Sadat

Forwards: Omid Musawi, Balal Arezou, Ramien Safi, Sayeed Reza Hussaini, Fareed Sadat

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