The club have a new look squad and have strengthened it with some experienced and exciting foreign players.
Chennaiyin FC’s rags-to-riches story in the 2019-20 Indian Super League season is pretty well-documented. The two-time champions struggled to get into second gear, going goalless in their first four games, before hitting top form under Owen Coyle who led them to the final. The Marina Machans were eventually beaten by ATK in the final, but nonetheless, their turnaround was one of the talking points of the campaign.
But, their fortunes since that night in Goa have changed as well, with the turnaround now happening in their squad from top to bottom. Their miracle man, Owen Coyle has left the club for Jamshedpur FC and so have some key players of last season’s squad. The club bid adieu to notable players like inspirational skipper Lucian Goian, Golden Boot winner Nerijus Valskis (joined Jamshedpur FC), defensive midfielder Masih Saighani and most notably Jeje Lalpekhlua, who has joined SC East Bengal ahead of the new term.
However, they have also signed some enterprising players to add to their ranks across different departments. With a new head coach and new recruits, both local and international, we take a look at the foreign contingent of Chennaiyin FC and assess what they bring to the table in their quest for a third ISL title.
The exit of Lucian Goian was a huge blow to Chennaiyin FC, who not only lost their inspirational skipper but also a man who has great experience of playing in the ISL. But, Chennaiyin have signed Enes Sipovic as a direct replacement. Sipovic will be the first Bosnian to play in the league and comes in from Qatari club Umm Salal, for whom he featured in 11 games last season playing every minute.
Sipovic is half-a-decade younger than Goian, so he might provide fresh legs in the defensive department and his physical frame of 6’6″ and is sure to give him prowess to stave off attackers in one-on-one situations. While he will certainly not provide the wealth of experience that Goian had, but his defensive sturdiness and eagerness to pop into the box to score a goal or two will be of huge help.
How quickly he adapts to the ISL remains to be seen, as he will be expected to hit the ground running as soon as the season begins. Chennaiyin FC posted the fourth-best defensive record last campaign, so the onus will be on Sipovic to give a good account of himself.
After the departure of captain Goian, the onus of leading the Chennaiyin side would fall on his defensive partner Eli Sabia. The Brazilian has seen all the highs and lows with the team and will be the central piece in the plans of head coach Csaba Laszlo.
Sabia has been with Chennaiyin across two spells, including the current one and in 2016. The defender has played every minute of the matches he has featured in for the Marina Machans for the last two seasons and has missed all but 82 minutes of overall action in his time at the club. So far, he has produced 2.1 tackles and 1.7 interceptions/game.
Eli Sabia has proven to be a tough nut to crack when in form and will be the headline player in the backline for Chennaiyin. He also mixes a good eye for a pass with his defensive duties. Last season, his passes from deep helped the Marina Machans burst out on the counter-attack many a times.
While the Marina Machans’ former coach Owen Coyle and Nerijus Valskis joined Jamshedpur FC, they would believe that they got their fair share of the bargain with the acquisition of Memo Moura.
Memo has been a part of the ISL since 2016 and has featured in 64 games. In this time, Memo has missed all but 299 minutes of football, which speaks volumes of his playing ability and versatility either as a holding midfielder or as a backup defender.
In three seasons with Jamshedpur FC, Memo missed only 84 minutes of football across all the 54 games that he featured in and put up impressive numbers like 3.7 tackles/game, 1.8 interceptions/game and also an average passing accuracy of 79% (85% last season). These are numbers that are gold standard for any club in the ISL. Chennaiyin have made a very savvy signing in Memo Moura and his experience in the middle of the park will prove to be invaluable to the side.
The newest recruit to the Marina Machans’ ranks, Jakub Sylvestr has been brought in to bolster their attacking options.
The 31-year-old moves from Israeli club Hapoel Haifa, where he scored five goals in 18 games. Sylvestr typically prefers to play centrally, although he is also capable of operating on either wing. He also scores regularly, having won the highest goalscorer award in the 2. Bundesliga in 2013-14.
He will have the big boots of Nerijus Valskis to fill and the Slovakian will look to bring his experience to the Chennaiyin attack, to help improve their goal tally of 32 goals from last season.
A product of the youth academy of Ligue 1 club Nice, Esmaël Gonçalves also known as Isma, comes with the experience of playing in the UEFA Champions League with APOEL Nicosia, as well as playing in the Scottish league with Hearts and St.Mirren. He won the Scottish Cup with the latter in 2012-13, scoring and assisting a goal in the final.
Like Sylvestr, Isma is also capable of slotting in as a No. 9 or playing as a traditional winger with good pace and an eye for goal. Now 29, he is expected to play a key role in Chennaiyin FC’s attacking fortunes.
A lot will be expected of Tajikistan player Fatkhulo Fatkhulloev, who brings a whole lot of experience and purpose to Chennaiyin’s attack. Fatkhulloev is the most successful player on this list, having won seven Tajik League titles and six Tajik Cups with FC Istiklol as well making two appearances in the AFC Cup final.
Fatkhulloev is Tajikistan’s most-capped player with 68 appearances and nine goals, among which two have come against India. He would bring a lot of stability to the Chennaiyin ranks and will be seen as a senior figure in the group. A traditional winger, he is capable of playing as an inverted winger as well.
The beating heart of Chennaiyin’s attack last season, Crivellaro was the showman in the middle of the park for the two-time champions, as he showcased flair and tenacity in his gameplay. As a result, he was one of only two players along with Eli Sabia, who were retained by Chennaiyin FC.
In his first campaign, Crivellaro made himself at home with consistent performances in attacking midfield. His awareness and magic feet helped him waltz past defenders and setup goals for others and pop a few himself as well.
Crivellaro was the second highest goalscorer for Chennaiyin last season (7), behind Golden Boot winner Valskis and the second-highest assist-maker (8) in the competition, behind Hugo Boumous. His creativity and trickery will be needed for Chennaiyin FC to create that spark while going forward.