ISL 2017: "I feel the people here love me," says Chennaiyin FC's Raphael Augusto
Chennaiyin's midfield general talks about what made him return to India.
Seated in the dugout with his boots off, Raphael Augusto suddenly jumped to his feet, marched a few steps forward and threw his arms out in admonishment at a decision that went against his Chennaiyin FC side.
The game was in the bag with Chennaiyin leading 3-0 against a NorthEast United side that had been sub-par on the night and the decision wasn't a particularly significant one - nothing like a penalty or a free-kick in a dangerous position.
A little over five minutes remained on the game clock. Yet, here was Augusto remonstrating, still involved in the game much after his night had come to an end.
Less than 10 minutes earlier, Augusto had walked off to a standing ovation from Chennaiyin's home fans at the 'Marina Arena' when replaced by Spaniard Jaime Gavilan. The Brazilian midfielder had put on a stellar showing to power his side to an impressive win to rebound from their opening game loss a few days ago. His shot had taken a deflection off a NorthEast defender to go into the goal and open the scoring on the 11th minute and he'd doubled the lead a little later by finishing off a sweet move with an expert run into the box. He was rightfully named man-of-the-match on the night.
ISL 2017 is Augusto's third season. Ever since arriving on loan from Fluminense in season two, the midfielder has gotten better with every season. His development and importance to this Chennaiyin team was underlined by his retention ahead of the players' draft.
That feeling of being wanted by the team and the fans is what drew him back, Augusto tells us during a chat with Sportskeeda at the team hotel.
"Feels very good because I feel the people here love me. So I stayed. It's (football) a passion for me and it's my job to deliver again for them (the team and fans)," says Augusto.
Tools to comeback
Last season, Augusto was Chennaiyin's overall leader in touches (850), passes (721) and tackles (57). He played often as part of a two-man central midfield pairing with some occasional starts further up the pitch. Yet, despite his best efforts, the 2016 season was one to forget for Chennaiyin as they finished a disappointing seventh.
"Of course (there) was disappointed we couldn't reach the playoffs. I felt we had the team to do that, but these things happen in football all the time," Augusto reflects when asked about the struggles of last year.
This year, however, despite retaining five players, Chennaiyin are a vastly different team with plenty of new personnel at the club as well as a new head coach. And Augusto is very excited about the players in the squad, feeling that they are well-equipped to deliver a good season.
"Very happy with the new players. I think that the club did very good to observe and pick these players. Let's see how the season goes," the midfielder tells us.
More rest, better football
Chennaiyin are currently in the middle of a 10-day break between games, sitting third in the table with three points. As impressive as their 3-0 win over NorthEast was in their second game, the team, as well as, their midfield general were slow off the blocks in their first game that ended in defeat to FC Goa.
Coach Gregory had mentioned after the first match that Augusto had not been 100% and the midfielder confirmed as much.
"We had our pre-season in Thailand. Didn't feel anything in Thailand, but of course in the beginning, started at about 20% and now I'm up to full 100%", exclaims Augusto.
He is also thankful for the season being longer this time around, saying that it presents more opportunities for him to shine.
"It's better because I have more time to rest and game by game, hopefully get better. Last year I had 14 games, but this year I have minimum 18 games. Four more games in which you can showcase your ability and skills."
The new gaffer and a different role
Both Marco Materazzi previously and John Gregory currently, have highlighted the Brazilian's central role in the team. Gregory was effusive in his praise of the midfielder after the second game saying: "It's down to the other guys and me to get the best out of him every week because he's such a talented player.”
When asked about the differences working under Materazzi and Gregory, Augusto remained diplomatic, but spoke about one major difference.
"They are almost same in many ways, just that John wants a bit more attacking than Marco. Both are very good coaches," Augusto remarks.
Many a time last year, Augusto would find himself with too much work to do both in the attacking and defensive departments. In the first game this season, that trend continued as Goa's midfield swamped Augusto and his teammates as Gregory went with a two-man pivot in midfield with Inigo Calderon partnering the Brazilian.
But in the second game, Gregory reinforced the midfield, playing Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh in the double-pivot, freeing up Augusto to roam forward and play in a more attacking role. And the move paid dividends for Chennaiyin.
"Yes, it's easier for me to play offensive midfield position, a bit closer to the goal. It does make a big difference," Augusto says when asked if he enjoyed the added midfield buffer we saw in the second game. "I prefer to play as a no. 6 usually, but I do what needs to be done to help the team win. The players around me played very well against NorthEast and hope it continues ahead."
Augusto may be stylish on the ball, but is also very difficult to dispossess. He's used that ball-holding skill to good effect for his side in seasons past. This season, there has been a slight shift in Augusto's play, something to do perhaps with the new man in charge.
"Last year I played a different position where I needed to have the ball more. There's a slight change this year because of which I need to think faster and release the ball faster to the other players," the Brazilian says talking about the way he's sprayed the ball around sooner this year than normal.
With 145 touches, 122 passes and 11 tackles, Augusto is once again the leader in all three categories for Chennaiyin thus far and looks to be adapting well to the shift in role.
India's love for Brazil
The Brazilian national team and Brazilian footballers have always been a huge favourites in India. And Augusto, along with the likes of FC Pune City's Marcelinho, are the latest in line. Not just at the senior level, but the Brazil U17 side found out at the recently-concluded FIFA U17 World Cup in India. A part of the U-20 squad himself, Augusto says that he was indeed following the team's exploits.
"They did very well and lost to a very good team. Nothing bad to say about that," quips Augusto when asked about Brazil's exit at the semi-final stage of the competition.
Besides the love for Brazilian footballers, Augusto also alludes to the similarity in the footballing cultures of Brazil and India that have helped him adjust to surroundings here rather easily over three seasons.