Since their title win two seasons ago the Marina Machans have fallen on hard times.

Chennaiyin FC have endured a topsy-turvy spell since their second title triumph in 2017-18 in head coach John Gregory’s first season. The Englishman entered the fray following a highly successful run for the Marina Machans under their first coach Marco Materazzi. A title win in John Gregory’s first year was the perfect time for the Marina Machans as they were at the precipice of their powers.

But the ensuing two seasons have provided a rather strange narrative with certain decisions, or rather indecisions on the part of the management, which have led to a downturn in form and competence.

What caused this fall from grace for Chennai?  Here we analyze and gauge the reasons that have or might have influenced such a downturn in the Marina Machans’ form and proceedings since their title win in 2017-18.

Aimless recruitment 

The 2017-18 season saw changes in personnel both on and off the pitch as Chennaiyin FC went through a transition from their first golden generation to the next. They signed strong players like Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves, Jaime Gavilan and Raphael Augusto among many.

These players combined to lead the Machans to their second title. They were mainstays in the squad and the recruitment strategy employed struck gold for the Marina Machans. The title win also possibly signaled a long stay for all these players and augured good times for the southerners.

Inigo Calderon was an integral part of Chennaiyin FC’s squad

But the following season the club lost possibly its best bet in Inigo Calderon whose durability and rock-solid presence in defence was pivotal in the club’s run to the title. Jaime Gavilan was another important player which the club sold on after the triumph among many.

But it was not just the exits but also the perfunctory work of the management to get able replacements for the outgoing players. A lack of bringing in new players made the squad paper-thin without proper bench strength in case of injuries in the squad which has become common practice in the ISL.

This inactivity on the part of the management was even more bizarre when they shockingly released club captain Mailson Alves and Raphael Augusto on a free ahead of the 2019-20 season. Mailson and Raphael were two stalwarts of the second golden generation and losing the two among many others demanded some reinforcements but nothing was done on that front as well.

Chennaiyin FC released Raphael Augusto ahead of the 2019-20 season

It put pressure on the existing players who had to perform and also keep themselves away from ill-fated injuries. Players like Jeje and Dhanpal Ganesh had to put in long shifts and injuries to them put Chennaiyin further down the drain from which they are still struggling themselves out from.

Raphael Augusto has now moved to Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin’s closest rivals and has flourished under the management of Carles Cuadrat and is a mainstay in the side much to the chagrin of Chennaiyin FC and their supporters. But the club can’t blame anyone but themselves for having let such a talented player on free.

A team remains in continuity only when there is a commensurate amount of influx into the squad for the ones that go out, in quality and not quantity alone. It’s doesn’t imply that Chennaiyin wouldn’t have survived without these players but rather could’ve done better had they been more patient and clear in the reinforcements that they wanted to get in rather than throwing their chips in at any hand.

Was there really any focus on the AFC Cup?

Despite being at the top of the group midway through the group stage, Chennaiyin FC somehow failed to qualify for the knockout stage of the competition as they lost the spot to Abahani Dhaka.

The team’s set-up barely had any players who were consistent picks in the squad. The rotation meant the squad lacked competence and the fighting spirit on the pitch, and there seemed to be a lack of cohesiveness which signed the obituaries for Gregory.

Gregory’s claims of ‘taking the AFC Cup seriously’ were questionable in intention when contended with the quality of the team set-up and gameplay.

It can be termed as over-confidence, fatigue or rather that the squad’s confidence was shattered due to their horrible ISL campaign as they scored only 16 goals in the 18 games last season and finished with the lowest points tally in ISL history.

John Gregory’s future 

There were many instances during last season and the AFC Cup where Gregory highlighted his desire to leave the club, but the club kept him on and that was probably the biggest mistake.

One of the reasons could have been that the club feared that they really couldn’t afford a change at that time. It is now evident that they clearly didn’t learn their lessons and the team’s performances on the pitch suffered as their season tapered away to new low.

The end of the AFC Cup campaign gave a coercive chance for Chennaiyin FC which would’ve given ample time for an incoming coach to learn and prepare his side for the new season.  But Chennaiyin FC still decided to keep Gregory, only to later sack him six games into the season with the Machans languishing at the ninth place in the ISL standings.

Such confusions indicate a clear lack of direction from the club who seem afraid to change when other established setups like ATK and Jamshedpur FC were committed to making shifts when existent charges weren’t working and now stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality and standings in the ISL.

The confusion in the administrative ranks of the club has been their bane and their lack of introspection into the problems have put up gaping holes in the system. Now that they have finally sacked John Gregory and put in Owen Coyle in charge, one can only hope that it can be the resurgence that the team and the fans have been asking for, but rather it does seem like a decision taken a bit too late.