Chennai City FC were not even supposed to play the Super Cup let alone dream about the possibility of making the cut to the semi-finals.
The I-League champions were among the eight clubs which had threatened to pull out of the tournament citing All India Football Federation president Praful Patel’s cold shoulder to their demand of a meeting but changed their mind with the AFC Champions League play-off spot at stake.
Though the Super Cup has no spot to offer for the continental event, AIFF had threatened action against clubs not playing in the Super Cup and Chennai City could not have afforded to take the risk of being disqualified from the tournament which they qualified for by virtue of being the I-League champions.
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Their Super Cup campaign came to and end on Tuesday when they suffered a demoralising 3-0 loss to FC Goa in the semis but there have been a lot of positives to take home for coach Akbar Nawas and his team, having defeated Indian Super League champions Bengaluru FC and FC Pune City in the competition.
“I think the right word is overhauled. We gave them [FC Goa] too much respect from the first half. We were too deep. This has got a lot to do with maturity and experience. FC Goa gave us a good footballing experience and we should really strive now to play the way they are playing,” coach Akbar Nawas said after their exit from the tournament, which was just their fourth defeat in the entire season.
But there is no doubt that the Coimbatore-based has come a long way. Not for all the staggering statistics, or the unique playing style adopted by Nawas but for showing that a club can be formed around local players and still be a hit.
Take this for a fact. During their quarter-final clash against Bengaluru, they had as much as nine Tamil Nadu based players in their squad while the ISL champions had zero players from Karnataka.
Though the famed Spanish quartet of Pedro Manzi, Sandro Rodrigues, Nestor Gordillo and Robert Eslava formed the core of the team, the support cast featured local players such as Alexander Romario Jesuraj, Charles Lourdusamy, Pravitto Raju, Vijay Ponnurangam, Edwin Vanspaul and Ajith Kamaraj - all who had played integral roles.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the future of I-League, it is clear that Chennai City will now get at least one shot at the continental stage and their blueprint going ahead is to continue what they have been doing and this is what they want to be remembered for.
“Our long-term philosophy is to cultivate our own style of football - the Chennai City FC style - throughout the ranks. We want our junior teams to play the same way as the senior team is now playing. That would improve the ecosystem immensely.
For the past few years, we have had a good set of local players who have all played successfully at the top level. Our ultimate goal remains to reach a stage where we will be able to build a successful team around the local players and not just foreign recruits,” Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh had told ANI.
Chennai City’s Super Cup also served a gentle reminder to the AIFF that I-League clubs are not far off their ISL counterparts, who might possess deeper pockets.
But regardless of what decisions are taken in the coming days over the future roadmap for Indian football, it’s been a season to remember for Chennai City and they should be proud of it.