Midway through the sixth season of Indian Super League, things looked bleak for Chennaiyin FC. But, the heavyweights of the tournament, produced a stunning turnaround under new coach Owen Coyle to reach the final. A runner-up finish was nothing short of spectacular given how the team started off their campaign and despite the defeat in the final, there was hope for the season ahead.
But the off-season has not been great for Chennaiyin FC. Anything but.
Owen Coyle’s departure to Jamshedpur FC is a cruel blow for the side, if they were hoping to build on the platform of last season. In the ISL, the managerial position is often a revolving door, but CFC are generally the exception to that rule preferring to stick with their coaches and giving them time.
Last season’s golden boot winner Nerijus Valskis has moved to Jamshedpur FC as well, following in the footsteps of coach Coyle. The Lithuanian hit the ground running in Indian football, scoring 15 goals in his very first season last year, while also providing six assists.
Then, Jeje Lalpekhlua, arguably one of the biggest names in Indian football, left the club after his struggles with injury. If fans wanted a redemption story from their Mizo Sniper, it was not to be.
But, change is often the only constant in the ISL and the two-time champions announced the appointment of experienced Csaba Laszlo as their head coach for the 2020-’21 season. It will be the 56-year-old Hungarian Laszlo’s first stint in Asia, but he comes with plenty of experience.
Changes for 2020-’21
Ins: Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Enes Sipovic, Reagen Singh, Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev, Memo, Jakub Sylvestr, Esmael Goncalves, Samik Mitra
Outs: Tondonba Singh, Andre Schembri, Nerijus Valskis, Laldinliana Renthlei, Zohmingliana Ralte, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sanjiban Ghosh, Dragos Firtulescu, Masih Saighani, Lucian Goian
The overall average age of the CFC squad is 25.9, while the Indian contingent has an average age of 24.7: both are on the older side of the spectrum in the tournament, but also points to a balance in their ranks that might augur well.
Chennaiyin have a good Indian contingent led by Anirudh Thapa, Edwin Vanspaul, and Lalianzuala Chhangte. Their season will depend on how well the new foreign recruits adapt and as of now, the answer to that question is up in the air.
Despite the exodus, in new captain Rafael Crivellaro (7 goals and 8 assists in ISL 2019-20) and his deputy, the dependable defender Eli Sabiá, Chennaiyin FC have two returning players who will add plenty of value. The club has succeeded when they have a good core group, and along with Thapa-led Indian contingent, this set of players will be key.
However one may try to spin it, the off-season was not a good one for Chennaiyin. To lose the head coach after less than one full season is one thing, but to also lose the top-scorer from the previous season along with the Indian forward who the fans loved is too much disruption.
Apart from topscorer Valskis, winger Andre Schembri and full-back Laldinliana Renthlei have left, along with Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lucian Goian. The replacements look good on paper but even though Chennaiyin have been solid with their recruitment in the past, they still have big boots to fill.
Coach: Csaba Laszlo
The Hungarian coach has more than two decades of coaching experience at club and international level. The Romania-born Laszlo had coaching stints in eight countries, including two national teams – Uganda and Lithuania. His early coaching career included a spell at the Borussia Monchengladbach B team. He worked as assistant to German World Cup-winning legend Lothar Matthäus at the Hungary national team.
Laszlo also became head coach of Hungarian giants Ferencváros and he won the 2005 Hungarian Coach of the Year award. He then assumed the role of Ugandan national team boss, whom he took from 167 to 97 in the Fifa world rankings. He has also served as head coach of the Lithuanian national team.
Laszlo then made the switch to Scottish top-flight side Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) and helped them finish third in the standings and secured qualification to the inaugural Uefa Europa League. Subsequently, he coached clubs in Belgium (Charleroi), Hungary (MTK Budapest), Slovakia (Dunajská Streda) and returned to Scotland with Dundee United in the 2017-’18 season. His last coaching stint was with Romanian club Sepsi OSK.
“I want to see my team control the game, control the opponent, control the ball, and be tactically efficient. It is not always possible but this is the style I aspire my team to play in. I want us to play successful football. That is the most important thing. Because as a football coach, first and foremost I want to win games. We need to have an all-round balanced game, in defence, midfield and attack. If you see modern football today, there is no one system that is completely superior to others,” Laszlo said in an interview with CFC’s official website.
Player to watch out for: Anirudh Thapa
Arguably the brightest talent in Indian football, Anirudh Thapa will once again be the lynchpin of Chennaiyin FC and will look to be the heartbeat of the side in midfield. The 22-year-old, who has been with Chennaiyin FC since 2016, has scored three goals in 55 games to go with nine assists. If he progresses to add productivity in the final-third to his game, he could have his best season yet. The talent is undoubtedly there, and the youngster knows he has to step up.
“People call me young because of my age but to be honest, I don’t consider myself as young (...) I want to improve myself and be the best,” he was quoted as saying in a recent interview.
Among the youngsters, 20-year-old Abhijit Sarkar could be the one to watch out for. Sarkar, who was a part of India’s U-17 Fifa World Cup team and was signed by Chennaiyin FC in 2018, well and truly came into his own last season when he starred for East Bengal in the I-League.
|Karanjit Singh||Aqib Nawab||Abhijit Sarkar||Aman Chhetri|
|Revanth BY||Balaji Ganesan||Anirudh Thapa||Esmael Goncalves (Isma)|
|Samik Mitra||Deepak Tangri||Dhanpal Ganesh||Jakub Slyvestr|
|Vishal Kaith||Eli Sabia||Edwin Vanspaul||Rahim Ali|
|Jerry Lalrinzuala||Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev|
|Reagen Singh||Germanpreet Singh|
|Lalchhuanmawia Fanai||Thoi Singh|