ISL 2015: Chennaiyin FC - Team Preview
Of the eight cities that have franchises in the Indian Super League, Chennai is probably the city that one would least associate with football. But the way the city as a whole has embraced Chennaiyin FC has been uplifting. With fans thronging the Marina Arena – as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is now fondly called – in large numbers during the first season, it is safe to say that Chennaiyin FC has given the football fraternity in the city a huge lift.
While Marco Materazzi and Elano Blumer have become household names across the city, it was consistent performances from the likes of Harmanjot Khabra and Dhanachandra Singh that played an understated yet telling role in Chennaiyin’s run to the semi-final last year. Chennaiyin have retained the core of the squad that served them so well last year, with the likes of Elano, John Stiven Mendoza and Bernard Mendy all deciding to come back for this year’s competition.
The club topped the league stages last year, but a horror night in Kochi in the first leg of the semi-final against Kerala Blasters ensured that they had a bridge too far to cross in the second leg at home.
This year, Chennaiyin look to have as strong a lineup as they did last year, and the Super Machans will have to deal with the pressure of expectations this year, as they are one of the sides touted to be strong favourites to win the competition.
Chennaiyin will play their home games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, which the fans have re-christened as the Marina Arena. It has a capacity of nearly 40,000. It has been refurbished with the turf being relaid.
Much to the team’s relief, Chennaiyin have a new practice facility at a central location, in contrast to last year when the team had an hour’s travel from the hotel to their training ground.
Goalkeepers: Apoula Edel Bete, Karanjit Singh, Nidhin Lal
Defenders: Eder Monteiro, Mailson Alves, Bernard Mendy, Alessandro Potenza, Dhanachandra Singh, Abhishek Das, Lalhmaihsanga Ralte, Justin Stephen, Mehrajuddin Wadoo
Midfielders: Elano Blumer, Manuele Blasi, Raphael Augusto, Bruno Pelissari, Thoi Singh, Harmanjot Khabra, Dhanpal Ganesh, Godwin Franco, Zakeer Mundampara
Forwards: John Stiven Mendoza, Fikru Teferra, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Jayesh Rane, Balwant Singh
Much like owner Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s IPL franchise, Chennai Super Kings, Chennaiyin have also retained the core of the squad that enabled them to top the league stages last year.
As was the case last season, Elano will play a significant role in determining Chennaiyin’s fortunes this year. Although some influential figures like Mikael Silvestre and Eric Djemba-Djemba will not be returning for this season, they have been replaced with some astute signings from Brazil and Italy. Two Italians, midfielder Manuele Blasi and defender Alessandro Potenza, have been recruited alongside Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto and defenders Eder Monteiro and Mailson Alves.
Ethiopian striker Fikru and Cameroonian Goalkeeper Edel have both joined from defending champions Atletico de Kolkata. Chennaiyin would look to them to make the sort of game-changing performances that both of them produced throughout last year’s competition. As both Elano and Marco Materazzi stressed during the official team launch, Chennaiyin have been astute with their recruitment strategy and ensured that they have at least two players fighting for each position.
In terms of the Indian players, two key men from last season, Denson Devadas and Gouramangi Singh, have moved on to other franchises, But Chennaiyin have replaced them with very capable players in Thoi Singh and the vastly experienced Mehrajuddin Wadoo. That aside, in Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh and Jayesh Rane, Chennaiyin have three highly talented players, riding high on confidence at the moment.
Materazzi was particularly thrilled when Chennaiyin confirmed that Colombian pocket dynamo John Stiven Mendoza would return for this season, and that is understandable given Chennaiyin’s particular lack of penetration after he sustained a hamstring injury midway through last season’s tournament.
Bruno Pelissari filled in Elano’s boots when Chennaiyin’s marquee player was injured last year, and the young Brazilian will be looking to figure more prominently in Materazzi’s plans right from the offset.
Throughout last season, Marco Materazzi stressed on the fact that he was a fan of players who played with attitude and commitment. With more time for him and his staff to plan and ideate this year, it would be safe to say that Chennaiyin have assembled a squad filled with players with those characteristics.
Importantly, Materazzi will be involved only in a managerial capacity this year, as opposed to his role of player-manager last time around. For pre-season training, Chennaiyin were based in Perugia in Italy and Materazzi was satisfied with the work that the players had done as a group.
Materazzi also said that he looked up most to Jose Mourinho and Marcelo Lippi and had learnt a lot from the two men. The Italian was bullish about his team’s chances, saying that he had a very balanced squad at his disposal. He also reiterated on one of his favourite lines from last year, saying that you needed to only score one goal more than the opponent to win a game of football. Mourinho-esque.
Abhishek Bachchan made himself a huge favourite with the Chennai crowd last year with his vocal and highly expressive backing of his charges. Mahendra Singh Dhoni will remain a favourite with the Chennai faithful although his commitments with the Indian cricket team mean that he will probably not be seen until the second half of the tournament.
Vita Dani of Asian Paints is also one of the co-owners of the franchise.
How far can they go?
Like last year, Chennaiyin have a squad that is capable of winning the trophy. The retention of last year’s stars coupled with the addition of the likes of Fikru have only made Chennaiyin stronger. It will be important for them to make a decent start.
But, as they found out last year, a good performance in the league stages gives no guarantees of rewards in the knockout stages. Chennaiyin will once again go into the tournament as strong title contenders.