Chennai, Nov 14 (IANS) With Chennaiyin FC playing without former coach Marco Materazzi for the first time, it will be interesting to see how the 2015 champions fare in the upcoming 2017-18 season of the Indian Super League (ISL).
The former ISL champions were coached by Italian legend Materazzi for three years and their game-plan -- both on and off the field -- was easy to understand.
Chennaiyin FC under Materazzi were aggressive and unwilling to give an inch. With Materazzi now opting to part ways after three seasons, Chennaiyin FC brought in the experienced John Gregory, and the former Aston Villa coach -- who took his team to the final of the FA Cup once -- admits that there will be pressure to deliver the ISL title, like Materazzi did in 2015.
"Marco is a legend in Chennai and delivered great consistency to this club. I want to continue the great work done by him in the first three years. In professional sport there is always pressure; as a professional you always want that pressure to be successful," Gregory said.
Gregory started his coaching career at Portsmouth and had spells at Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers before a four-year stint with Aston Villa in the English Premier League. It will be interesting to see how he shapes up this team.
On the evidence of their pre-season training camp in Thailand, the team has looked in fine fettle and returned home after an encouraging 3-0 victory against Thai Premier League's Bangkok United FC.
"We had a three-week pre-season camp in Thailand and played three matches. We are trying to give the best possible preparation to the squad and I am very impressed by the attitude and professionalism of this group of players. We are working hard and aim to make a good start on November 19," Gregory said.
On November 19, Chennaiyin FC will be up against FC Goa, a team they famously defeated to win the ISL title in 2015. Colombian striker Stiven Mendoza was the star of that ISL final and his absence last season hurt Chennaiyin. They finished only seventh, but have done enough to ensure that there is no repeat.
Unlike in the past, there are no star names. Like the coach explained, "the most important factor is the overall collective." The collective works well for Chennaiyin FC.
"This club has a reputation of creating stars and I am sure, even after season four there will be one or two players who will become big stars in the ISL," the coach said.
One player who is already making heads turn is Henrique Soreno -- a captain in the making. The former ATK man and Portugal international will have an influential role to play at Chennaiyin FC, while Brazilian midfielder Raphael Augusto and Spanish defender Inigo Calderon are other foreign players to look out for.
From among the Indian players, Jeje Lalpekhlua obviously remains the biggest star. The club also chose to retain goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, Jerry Lalrinzuala and youngster Anirudh Thapa.
The return of old boys Thoi Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh and Dhanachandra Singh means coach Gregory will be working with a set of players who are familiar with the Chennaiyin FC way of life.
"Every coach has his own style. I leave it to the media and fans to judge me and my style. But like Marco or any other coach I hate losing and love winning," Gregory said.
No wonder everyone is waiting for Chennaiyin FC to take the field in this edition of the ISL.
Domestic players: Karanjit Singh, Bikramjit Singh, Inigo Calderon, Keenan Almeida, Sanjay Balmuchu, Shahin Lal Meloli, Thoi Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Pawan Kumar, Anirudh Thapa, Dhanpal Ganesh, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Mohammed Rafi, Baoringdao Bodo, Dhanachandra Singh and Germanpreet Singh.
International players: Henrique Sereno, Gregory Nelson, Jaime Gavilan, Jude Nworuh, Rene Mihelic, Raphael Augusto, Mailson Alves, Fulganco Cardozo, Francisco Fernandes.
Reserve players: Zonun Mawia, Lalliansanga Renthlei, Joseph, Bibin Boban and Bedashwor.