It is easy to understand the turmoil that has gripped Chennaiyin FC in recent months. The two-time ISL champions have won just three of their last 24 games, losing 16 of those encounters. John Gregory was afforded a very tentative extension at the end of a miserable season, but a rough start to the sixth edition of ISL pushed him out of the door earlier than planned.
The champions in the 2017-18 season have continued to struggle, winning just one game out of six, and even that with a scratchy effort in the extra time of their game against an unconvincing Hyderabad team. Finally, Chennaiyin FC decided to sack Gregory and bring in Owen Coyle, the Scot who once managed Burnley and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.
After finishing at the bottom of the table last year, the Chennai-based outfit stopped short of sacking Gregory. Instead they brought in new players to strengthen the team, especially in the midfield and defence. The Marina Machans were hoping that the arrival of Dragos Firtulescu, Andre Schembri and Rafael Crivallero, the overseas stars would turn the tables for the flagging attack of Chennaiyin FC.
The arrival of Vishal Kaith in the goal was also an interesting effort to stem the bleeding. The team conceded 32 goals in 2018-19, scoring just 16 in return. But the team seems to have gone backwards, having already conceded 13 goals in six matches. The arrival of Lucian Goain from Mumbai City FC was supposed to revitalize the defence, but that hasn’t been the case in the first six matches.
Gregory also failed to get his midfield and strikers to gel into a unit. On paper, Chennaiyin FC owned a good collection of players. But once on the field, central midfielder Anirudh Thapa’s versatility and Dhanpal Ganesh’s sharp skills were blunted by a lack of synergy with the frontline. Game after game, the two-time ISL champions have struggled to impose themselves as the wandered around without making too much progress. The axe had to fall.
After achieving the title in his very first season, Gregory seems to have lost his way with the team. And despite all the reinforcements over the summer, not much has changed. While winning and losing is acceptable, Chennaiyin FC’s complete lack of conviction in their 3-0 losses to both Bengaluru FC and FC Goa just served to confirm that the team was in disarray.
With a third of the season gone and only two days left for their match against Jamshedpur FC, who are third on the table, the new manager Owen Coyle will have his hands full.
Despite taking over in turbulent times, Coyle has to deliver and do so very soon. The team needs a change and their key players have to step up and take responsibility.
Among the forwards, Nerijus Valskis has outshined Dragos Firtulescu and Jeje Lalpekhlua this season. If Coyle can gain the trust of Valskis very early in his tenure, he has a wealthy collection of midfielders to build his attacking strategies. The manager needs to articulate his vision and style of football so that the unit can coalesce around a new structure that can turn the tide for the team. Coyle will do well to find ways to build harmony in the midfield, where good talent is going to waste. Anirudh Thapa, Dhanpal Ganesh, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Germanpreet Singh, Andre Schembri and Rafael Crivallero would be an envious collection of talents for the best of teams. Coyle needs to extract more from this bunch of footballers.
The defences have been floundering for Chennaiyin FC. And perhaps this is the time for the team to thrust responsibility on the younger lot. For all his skills, Lucian Goain is 36, well beyond his prime. He might serve the coach with his understanding of the game, but it is time Coyle builds a backline that is younger and far more organized.
It might be worth shaping a core built with Zohmingliana Ralte, supported by Jerry Lalrinzuala and Laldinliana Renthlei on either side. The team from Chennai have nothing much to lose from being ninth on the table.
Chennaiyin FC has one of the most enviable stadia in India as their home. And Coyle will do well to continue nurturing the relationship with their fans to try and fill as many seats as possible in the 40000 seater Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. He can even pick the brains of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, part owner, for a long term vision for the club. This is a great opportunity for them to build a more creative team around some of their younger talent.
Ironically, Coyle helped Burnley gain promotion to the English top tier in 2010 before moving to Bolton. But after going there, he oversaw their relegation to the Championship in 2012. Chennaiyin FC are way down the order in ISL VI and it will be interesting to see where the Scot can take them by the end of the season.Published 07 Dec 2019, 09:28 IST