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'No reason why India can't reach the World Cup', Chennaiyin FC coach Owen Coyle marvels in Indian contingent across the ISL (Exclusive)

  • Owen Coyle also opened up on the aspects that could be enhanced to make Indian football grow in stature.
Modified 22 Jan 2020, 12:50 IST

Owen Coyle was installed at the helm after Gregory
Owen Coyle was installed at the helm after Gregory's sacking

On the 30th of November, 2019, Chennaiyin FC decided to part ways with John Gregory, an Englishman who had powered their 2nd ISL conquest, a couple of seasons earlier. Since then though, the results had alarmingly dried up while their propensity to prioritise calculation over creativity had also left an awful lot to be desired.

Yet, the sacking of a title-winning manager signified that the Marina Machans were simply not happy with what had been transpiring on the pitch. In fact, days before eventually getting the boot, Gregory had admitted in a press conference that he might have run his race.

Consequently, his potential successor faced a monumental task of resurrecting a club that had not just fallen off a cliff rather spectacularly but had also contrived to paint a much gloomier portrait of the future than any of its competitors. 

Among all that, Chennaiyin FC managed to convince former Bolton Wanderers and Burnley manager, Owen Coyle, to steady a ship that had creaked far too often in 2019.

Fortunately for them though, that particular move has worked a charm as the Irishman has dug deep into his vast riches of experience and morphed the Marina Machans into an outfit still harbouring hopes of a playoff spot. 

In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Coyle opened up on the challenges he faced when being installed at the helm and how he managed to tide over those troughs. He said,

“Coming in, I think we had to assess what had happened previously and how to get the team winning again. In the early games, we had a bit of misfortune but I had to change the lack of goals, especially after scoring only 4 times in 6 games. I had to find a way to make the players feel positive and be offensive-minded while also finding the balance. There is still a long way to go but the players have bought into the idea really well.”

To put things into perspective, before Coyle’s arrival, Chennaiyin had only managed 5 points in 6 fixtures, with their goal difference staggeringly standing at -6. However, the Irishman has so far managed to blend a more extravagant philosophy with results, meaning that the Marina Machans currently occupy 7th spot, despite their wretched start to the season.

Chennaiyin FC have hit form recently
Chennaiyin FC have hit form recently

Additionally, Chennaiyin held the unwanted distinction of having won a grand total of 0 away games between the 11th of November, 2018 and the 10th of January, 2020. On that particular aspect, he quipped, 

We hadn’t won away since November 2018 before the match against Hyderabad and we had to change that. We knew draws weren't going to be enough and we had to improve our mentality. Obviously that comes with a bit of risk but the players’ attitude and efforts have been fantastic.

The encounter at Hyderabad was followed by a tricky tussle against NorthEast United, a game they ultimately came through unscathed. And, while the victory ensured 3 points, it also allowed Chennaiyin FC to record consecutive league wins for the first time since March 2018, which incidentally, was their title-winning campaign.

Over the past couple of months, Coyle, in consonance with his promise of free-flowing football, has gotten the Marina Machans dancing to his tunes, meaning that several of their offensive players have stood up to be counted.

Subsequently, the likes of Andre Schembri, Nerijus Valskis and Rafael Crivellaro have risen to the occasion. More tellingly though, the Indian contingent, comprising players of the ilk of Anirudh Thapa, Edwin Vanspaul and Lallianzuala Chhangte has given a great account of itself, thereby enabling Chennaiyin to chart an upward trajectory. He said,

Foreign players get a lot of credit but my Indian players have also been brilliant. The Indian players, for me, are very good athletes and they have the application, desire and the willingness to learn. Nearly every team plays with a foreign midfielder but I have trust in Anirudh, Germanpreet and Edwin to get the job done.

On a broader scale, Coyle was also immensely impressed by what the Indian players across the league had to offer. The Irishman stated that they possessed the requisite potential to develop further and help India establish a foothold in continental and global football.

I look at the players here and they certainly have potential. And I think there’s no reason why they can’t reach the World Cup finals.

Having said that though, he opined that India, if it needed to realise its vast potential, would probably have to shift to a slightly longer league format, wherein players would get 30-40 games a season. In such scenarios, Coyle explained that youngsters develop much better, as opposed to playing just 18 games throughout a campaign.

Coyle has been impressed by the likes of Anirudh Thapa (R)
Coyle has been impressed by the likes of Anirudh Thapa (R)

Additionally, he also opened up on the elements he felt needed ironing out, especially as the country hopes to rise from its footballing slumber and awaken itself as an international force. He said,

For people from England, football is second nature to us and the coaching is of very high standard. With all due respect to the coaching structure in India, I feel if they had the same kind of coaching in the formative years, India would’ve had a great team. Also, I feel that if coaches can get more time on the training ground, it would be very helpful for the players.

However, moments after elaborating on the bright prospects lying ahead for Indian football, Coyle stressed the importance of staying in the present with Chennayin FC. He commented,

Next up we have a tough game against Jamshedpur but it is a game we can win if we are at our best. And, if we win, we can get closer to the top four. We have very talented individuals and even if we lose, I can assure you it won’t be for a lack of effort.

Thus, through an illuminating conversation, Coyle had highlighted the aspects that made him fall in love with Indian football, how it boasted the adequate resources to make a splash on the international circuit, how it could be enhanced and most importantly, how he had tried to turn around the fortunes of a club that seemed destined to scale its nadir, just a few years after scaling its highest trough.

To the neutral, catapulting Chennaiyin from the foot of the table to 7th spot would’ve been an achievement in itself, especially considering how they seemed destined for the wooden spoon a couple of months into the season. Yet, in sync with his personality, the Irishman emphatically stated that his job in Chennai was nowhere near completion.

After all, that bit of ambition and vision was what Chennaiyin opted for after being guilty of stagnating a touch under Gregory. And, with Coyle portraying the aforementioned facets in abundance, the dark latter days of his predecessor’s reign could be forgotten in a trice.

Published 22 Jan 2020, 08:30 IST
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