BENGALURU FC'S charismatic head coach Ashley Westwood, who played a vital part their victorious debut season in I-League and shaped the team into what it has become, turns 39 today. Wishes are pouring in for him from the club and its fans alike.
Westwood, born and brought up in Brdgnorth, England, developed as a defender in the Manchester United youth system. His competitive debut, however, came at Crewe Alexandra, then playing at the old Second Division (third tier league). His first season playing regularly for them saw them get promoted to the First Division.
It wasn't just at Alexandra he helped move up a division. In 1998-99 he joined Bradford City, and that season they moved up to the Premier League. Westwood got his Premier League debut the next season, although he was used in only 5 games that season. Next season he was sent back to First Division on loan at Sheffield Wednesday. In summer 2001, he signed a new contract with Sheffield.
His last few years as a player were spent at different clubs in League One, League Two and Conference National. In 2012 he hung up his boots and started his coaching career at Blackpool as a first team coach, working under manager Michael Appleton. Next year, as Appleton moved to Blackurn Rovers, he brought Westwood with him.
But it was in 2014 when Westwood made the big jump. He signed up for his first job as head coach at newly formed I-League side Bengaluru FC. He took charge early during the process of the club's formation and provided valuable insight on team-building and construction of training facilities, bringing a thoroughly professional work culture in the club. He even maintained a strict oversight on the players' diets. His efforts paid off in dividends when Bengaluru FC went on to win the I-League on their very first appearance. The next season they won the AFC Cup and also left their mark in the AFC Cup. In their own city they built a loyal, vociferous community of supporters and soon became one of the most vibrant football clubs in the country. And Ashley Westwood was at the centre of it all.
At 39, Westwood's career as the man by the sidelines is just taking off. Under his guidance, Bengaluru FC are perceived as one of the few Indian clubs who can make a name for themselves in Asia. All indications are, he will go on to have a long spell with Bengaluru. And afterwards he may reach out for bigger or better things. But what's for sure is that the fans will continue to be thrilled and entertained by his footballing bravado for many years to come.