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ISL 2019 | What clicked and what didn’t – Chennaiyin FC

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ISL 2019 | What clicked and what didn’t – Chennaiyin FC

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Subhayan Dutta


The defending champions had, to put it mildly, a horrible season with the management now having to decide whether to give the club time or go for a total revamp. However, even amidst the chaotic failure, John Gregory might have stumbled upon talents that could formulate the future of the club.

Last season, the Marina Machans had finished second on the table garnering 32 points off 18 matches that included nine wins and four losses. Thereafter, the champions went on to quash all hopes of league leaders Bengaluru FC, who had finished eight points above them on the table, in the final to claim the title for the second time in the tournament’s history.

However, this season saw a drastic failure for the defending champions as they could manage just two wins and as many as 13 losses to end rock bottom of the table with nine points. While it is crystal clear that most things didn’t go Chennaiyin’s way, the season did throw up some talents nonetheless around whom the club could build the future. But, unfortunately, that was the only positive the Super Machans could take away from this season.

What clicked?

Though very few in numbers but the number of youth making a mark this season has assured one thing – CFC’s scouts did a good job. Given the fact that they were brought in to make the job of the team’s core few easier, the likes of Tondonba Singh, Issac Vanmalsawma, and Laldinliana Renthlei, actually outperformed the stalwarts.

After first-choice Jerry Lalrinzuala showed early signs of improvement before eventually struggling to hold the first place, Gregory was seeking a more consistent performer with results not going his way. And the new import from NEROC FC, Tondonba was handed his debut against Jamshedpur FC. Though he could only play 45 minutes in the 3-1 defeat, he had proven his attributes and eventually became a regular from one match. 

22-year-old Isaac Vanmalsawma, who was brought from FC Pune City, was thrown into the deep end in the very first game of the season against Bengaluru FC, and he did hog the limelight. A central midfielder by nature, the youngster had no problems drifting to the flanks with his speed and dribbling abilities giving wings to his mature vision. Though it took him time to get things together, his intent could be recognized from a distance as he managed a goal and an assist.

Defensive veteran Inigo Calderon was one of the most experimented players for CFC this season and was put in a tight spot by being demanded to play in central defence to replace an underperforming Mailson Alves. Not only that, but the full-back was also seen in the defensive midfield from time to time. Consequently, coming from Aizawl FC, 20-year-old Laldinliana Renthlei was handed his debut, and although it came in a 2-1 defeat against ATK, the full-back took no time in cementing his place.

However, with the collective failure of the team in most other departments meant that neither of the young imports could make a mark in their debut season. Barring them, club prodigies Anirudh Thapa and Thoi Singh turned heads expectantly, with the young striker ending the season as the highest scorer with four goals and an assist.

Apart from the one player who performed like the thousands of Chennai fans expected him to do was Raphael Augusto. There were times when Chennaiyin FC looked nothing more than a one-man side with the Brazilian taking all the load on his shoulders. Though he could only score twice and assist once, he contributed equally on the defence exacting as many as 99 tackles, the second highest in the league after Jahouh. The 28-year-old was the heart of the side that screened every mere move. He had a whopping 1411 touches in 18 games, which is also the second highest after the Goa man. And it is sad that he couldn’t be as important to Chennai as Jahouh has been for Goa this season. 

What Didn’t?

Almost nothing worked for Chennaiyin to full effect, but the crux of the problem was manager John Gregory. The title-winning manager had no control of his players, who didn’t look committed enough and the prime example of them could be Mailson Alves and Jeje Lalpekhula. The centre half, who was the leader of the pack last season, was seen being benched for three matches abruptly. Though he returned with a bang, scoring one and assisting one, in a clash against FC Pune City, the Brazilian couldn’t retain his form for the remainder of the season.

Another huge disappointment for Chennaiyin FC was fan-favouriteJeje Lalpekhlua. The striker was the side’s main weapon up front last season where his seven goal feat was one of the significant factors in CFC’s title run. His dry run, coupled with new import Carlos Salom’s presence, saw Jeje’s playing being reduced to nine and sometimes even two minutes that didn’t help improve his confidence at all. After his decent AFC Asian Cup, Jeje was again seen getting 90 minutes but things had escalated by then.

Lack of goals basically was the death of CFC this season and mismanaging Salom and Jeje by Gregory was where it all originated. Eventually, Chennaiyin could score only 16 goals in 18 games with their highest scorer only bagging four goals. 

Last but not the least CFC’s temporary solutions couldn’t cover the leak for long either. Apart from Salom, Gregory had brought in the experienced likes of Halicharan Narzary and CK Vineeth from Kerala Blasters to help with goals up front, but neither of them could make any difference whatsoever with one goal and no assists from them combined. 

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