"It has been a good season but it will be incomplete if we don't win the final", Nerijus Valskis outlines his ambitions ahead of ISL final against ATK | ISL 2019-20 (Exclusive)
- Valskis has scored 14 times in the current season and is just a goal behind Roy Krishna in the race for the ISL Golden Boot.
On the 25th of November, 2019, Chennaiyin FC welcomed Hyderabad FC in a clash that was billed as one that would decide the fate of the bottom dwellers of the ISL. At that juncture, the hosts had accumulated a grand total of 1 point from four games whereas the visitors had also painted a similarly woeful picture.
Consequently, the game ebbed and flowed, considering it involved two sides who tried their utmost to avoid another defeat. Unsurprisingly, as the minutes ticked by, the encounter became scrappier and many felt that a goal would elude the Marina Machans for the fifth game running.
Yet, towards the fag end of a manic six-minute spell in second half stoppage-time, the home side found themselves within a whisker of victory when the ball fell kindly to Nerijus Valskis.
The Lithuanian did the rest and accorded the thousands in attendance a reason to smile. And, since then, the Marina Machans have only lost two matches across the league stages and the play-offs, meaning that, despite all the odds seemingly being stacked against them prior to the aforementioned contest, they are only another victory away from an unprecedented 3rd ISL crown.
In the process, they’ve scored tons of goals and have waltzed past many a fancied opposition. To put things into perspective, the club has scored 38 goals across the season, even though they managed none during their first four fixtures.
Predictably, the likes of Rafael Crivellaro and Valskis have enjoyed their time under the Indian sun and hours before the final, Sportskeeda up with the latter, wherein he talked about what made the aforementioned partnership blossom and how it helped the side scale plenty of crests.
"Yes, I have worked on myself and created a lot of understanding and rapport with all my teammates at Chennaiyin, including Rafael. That was integral in the results we got on the pitch, especially the goals I have scored in helping the team."
Additionally, the Lithuanian also cast light on how Chennaiyin FC had managed to stitch together such a stellar run, especially after many had written them off.
"Hard work, perseverance and belief in ourselves. We always knew that as a team we can score goals. We just had to get to know each other and click. Then once the goals started coming, our confidence and momentum also grew. It was about trying and trying and staying united as team in our approach."
In fact, the turnaround over the past couple of months reached a crescendo when the Marina Machans dispatched ATK’s challenge at the Salt Lake Stadium to ensure that qualification for the play-offs remained in their hands. When quizzed about how much inspiration the club intended to draw from that game, Valskis replied that though the result was what the team wanted, they needed to ensure that they didn’t reminisce too much about it and focused on getting the basics right on Saturday.
Also, he stressed the importance of looking ahead to the final as a different match, considering the dynamics alter significantly, as opposed to a round-robin fixture.
Throughout the current campaign, the Lithuanian has often popped up to score crucial goals for Chennaiyin FC, meaning that they’ve rarely lacked goals, apart from the initial phase of the term. Subsequently, he has catapulted himself to 14 goals, a tally that is just a solitary strike shy of Roy Krishna in the race for the Golden Boot.
However, Valskis emphasized that that particular individual achievement was the last thing on his mind, quipping,
"Not at all. It'll be great to score and help the team to win. In the process, if I win the Golden Boot, then it will be a pleasant feeling. But the team's objectives always come first. In hindsight, it has been a very good debut ISL season but it will be incomplete if we don't win the ISL final."
Thus, in light of the confidence and the clarity of thought the Marina Machans’ hitman portrayed before the encounter; one reckons that the club seems pretty well equipped to carve an unparalleled niche for itself in Indian footballing folklore.
Yet, despite such an enormous moment of reckoning on the horizon, Chennaiyin FC would have to play the final behind closed doors, considering the Coronavirus pandemic. However, that didn’t stop Valskis from issuing a rallying call to the club’s faithful.
"Yes, we feel for the fans that they won't be able to attend the final but it is what it is. We look forward to all their support from back home. We will receive their positive vibrations and prayers. And we hope to return their unconditional support with a third ISL trophy!"
As the final dawns upon the Indian footballing fraternity, it seems a tad ironic that two of the most vociferous fan bases would have no say in the outcome of the final.
Yet, as life has shown on countless occasions before, one needs to be ready to expect the unexpected and the disheartening situation across the country can certainly not be discounted.
On the flip side though, it provides the footballers an opportunity to give those at home something to rejoice about and prove that the sport can indeed be the silver lining when grey clouds threaten to disrupt everything.
While it would be a touch naïve to expect an ISL triumph to tide over all the hardship people have been undergoing recently, the joy the beautiful game accords can perhaps mitigate it to an extent.
After all, back in November, when the footballing tunnel seemed as dark and lonely for Chennaiyin FC, Valskis found a way to enable them to dream about a faint light at the end of it.
Even though the circumstances have changed drastically since, the Marina Machans can take heart from the fact that their premier forward has the requisite wherewithal to be the decisive tilting scale, especially when push comes to shove.Published 14 Mar 2020, 12:09 IST