Chennai: When Englishman John Gregory was appointed Chennaiyin FC boss in July last year, little was expected of him because of his uneventful managerial career. With no major signings by Chennaiyin, not much was expected of the team either. But both the manager and the club made pundits eat humble pie by winning the crown in Indian Super League season 4.
In a baptism of fire, Gregory saw his team trail by three goals at half-time against FC Goa but the Englishman quickly turned things around in the second period by reverting to the conventional 4-4-2 from 3-5-2. Although Chennaiyin lost the opener 2-3, the club’s fans knew that their new manager was a capable hand.
After that match, Chennaiyin were the team to beat. Their fortunes had been reversed and goals came from almost all players on the field. They finished second in the league and were crowned champions for the second time after beating Bengaluru FC in the final.
Gregory who is in Chennai ahead of the team’s pre-season camp in Malaysia wants to do it all over again. “We want to be the first team to retain the title in the ISL. We have retained the nucleus of last year’s team. Most of the players have returned and they know what to expect. We are still two players short. We have three or four players who we are keen on signing and we hope to get them on board in the next three or four weeks. We have our share of domestic players and we will sign two overseas players in the coming weeks,” said the 64-year-old. Defence was the bedrock of Chennaiyin’s success last season. Centre-back Henrique Sereno, also the club’s captain, lead from the front. The back line not only remained intact but also contributed eight goals. Though Chennaiyin have retained three out of their four defenders, Sereno is yet to sign a deal. “Sereno was a great
captain. He took care of his team really well and set very high standards with his football as well. It is a huge void to fill. We are looking at someone to fill that position,” added Gregory.
Even though Jeje Lalpekhlua scored nine goals from 20 matches, consistency eluded the Mizoram forward. “We didn’t have one player for goals, we had 11.
It wasn’t really Jeje who was not scoring; I think the team didn’t create enough chances for him,” said Gregory, who scooped the AIFF Manager of the Year award in his maiden stint in India.
The Englishman can take credit for the meteoric rise of Anirudh Thapa because he never got tired of promoting the midfielder last season. But Gregory said, Anirudh, the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year, must keep improving.
“If he doesn’t improve, someone is going to take his place in the team. He needs to step up like Jerry Lalrinzuala. He has an opportunity to be a regular in the playing XI. Although midfielder Ganesh also had an outstanding season, he should prove himself to be part of the squad this year. He also needs to keep a check on the number cards he acquires this season,” added Gregory.