The Italian insists Chennaiyin will not miss the stars of last season…

Chennaiyin FC kick-start their Indian Super League title defence against Atlético de Kolkata at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in the city on Sunday. It promises to be an exciting game of football as ATK look to avenge the heartbreak of their dramatic semi-final exit at the hands of Chennaiyin FC last year.

On the other hand, Chennaiyin will be going into the match with the defeat they suffered in the season opener in the last edition fresh in their minds. Chennaiyin Head Coach Marco Materazzi will also have to deal with the tag of the hunted after being part of the chasing pack last season. However, the Italian was quick to play down any suggestion of the added pressure that comes along with being reigning champions.

“So this is a new year. We start from zero. All teams start from zero with the same budge. Everything is new this year and everybody starts from zero. So there is no extra pressure,” said the former World Cup-winning Italian defender.

Materazzi brushed aside the fact that Chennaiyin FC have lost a few key players from their outfit in the likes of Mendoza, Pellisari and marquee player Elano Blumer. When pressed on if the absence of the Golden Boot winners from Hero ISL 2014 and Hero ISL 2015 will have any bearing on their campaign, he insisted that football is a team game and not about individuals.

“First of all, I’m happy to be here for the third year and I’m proud to be here. Every year you start again and for me there is no key player, there is only the team. Last year, we have shown we can be a strong team. I want to thank all the players that were there with me last year, particularly Bruno Pelissari, but as I said, every year is different. We will start this adventure again with new players and what matters actually is the team,”he said.

When asked for his thoughts on goal machine Jeje Lalpekhlua who is still on the top of the list with 10 goals as an Indian, Materazzi was effusive in his praise, labelling the 25-year-old striker as the ‘best player’ in India. “I think Jeje should not just be the best striker, he should be the best player of India. His growth was amazing and over two years unbelievable. He is a very important player for me but also for India as well. He is an icon that can help develop football in India,” he said.