John Gregory cited Alex Ferguson’s example when queried recently about how he will motivate his champion outfit from the previous season.
“When Sir Alex won his first Championship, back in the 1990s, all he wanted to do was go and win it again the following season. And he did it 13 times. He won the championship 13 times. Now, that is the true sign of a champion – you don’t just win it once, you go back, defend the title, and win it the following year. Really, I’ve just tried to instill into my squad this season that real champions don’t just win it once, they go back to win it the following year and the year after that and the year after that and it really is more of a mental thing than a physical thing.”
It was a pertinent question put forward to him. No ISL champion has ever retained the title. ATK and Chennaiyin have won every alternate year and while other teams will be desperate to get in on the act this season, Gregory will leave no stone unturned to ensure his side will be right in the mix come the end of the season.
Chennaiyin were not particularly pleasing on the eye last year, unlike some sides which had adopted a more progressive continental approach. The team displayed ‘typically’ English characteristics in the mould of their manager and were resilient in defence, conceding only 1.05 goals a game. They made their presence felt physically, racking up a league high 2.3 cards per game. They also won the highest percentage of balls in the middle and attacking thirds combined and made the most successful tackles. The numbers on duels, aerial duels and clearances were also near the top end of those charts.
Gregory has revamped his coaching staff to bring in new perspectives but do not expect the style to deviate from the formula that has served him so well. The loss of Henrique Sereno, their rock and captain from last season, is massive and it remains to be seen if the returning Eli Sabia can fill his boots. Rene Mihelic has moved to Delhi but otherwise, Chennaiyin has done well in keeping the core of last season’s side together. Andrea Orlandi and Carlos Salom have been brought in to add more threat in the forward areas.
Chennaiyin also have a maiden appearance in Asian competition to contend with this season in the AFC Cup and the preliminary rounds will coincide with the latter stages of the ISL. They would do very well to stay in that competition and also make the ISL playoffs for a second year running. That would be a whole lot more feasible than retaining the title.
Last season’s finish: Champions (Regular Season – Second)
FlyingGoalie Prediction For This Season: Fifth