These players created a special bond with the club’s fans and are adored by them.
Since their inception in 2014, Chennaiyin FC have been among the most followed clubs in Indian football. Co-owned by a fan-favourite cricketer and an actor, the Marina Machans has carved a name for themselves. The club have been home to many domestic and international stars. Among them is World Cup winner Marco Materazzi, who also coached the Indian Super League club to the title. Another in Elano Blumer also donned the blue jersey.
The club won the ISL twice in the first four seasons. But they have since lacked the consistency to regularly challenge for the title. They did reach the final two seasons ago, but had a mediocre outing last season, finishing eighth in an 11-team league. But, that has not stopped fans from backing their beloved club. A lot of that is down to Chennaiyin FC bringing the best out of their Indian players. Jeje Lalpekhlua, Karanjit Singh, Harmanjot Khabra have all left their footprint at the club.
Foreign recruits Elano, Raphael Augusto, Mailson Alves have also been the cornerstone of their success and will always have a chapter in the club’s history. But, some among them have forged an everlasting bond with Chennaiyin loyalists. Their connection with the fans endures even after their departure from the club.
On that note, Khel Now takes a look at the top five fan-favourite players of Chennaiyin FC:
5. Henrique Sereno
His first stint in the ISL came with ATK, but Henrique Sereno had an instant connection with the Super Machans when he joined them in 2017. Sereno is also one of the few players to win the Indian Super League title in consecutive seasons. His time at Chennaiyin FC lasted for just one season. However, that was enough for Sereno to become a fan-favourite at the Marina Arena.
With him marshalling the defence, Chennaiyin FC conceded only 22 goals in ISL 2017-18, the second-lowest for that season. Sereno also made the joint-most interceptions (30) and effected 101 clearances en route to leading his side to a second ISL title.
4. Rafael Crivellaro
A year after guiding Chennaiyin to the ISL final, Rafael Crivellaro lasted just seven games last season. An ankle injury ruled him out of the league and with it dashed the team’s hopes of repeating their heroics from two seasons ago. Crivellaro was the side’s chief playmaker when they went from last in the points table to an ISL final in 2019-20. The Brazilian contributed with seven goals and eight assists. He was also one of only five players to make more than 1000 passes that season.
Civellaro’s never-say-die attitude and demanding nature connected him well with CFC loyalists. On the field, he always lifts the spirits of his teammates and demands more from them. It was his leadership skills that prompted the management to name him the club captain for the 2020-21 season. That Chennaiyin FC finished eighth last campaign after a decent start, tells you the impact he has on the team. With Crivellaro in the side, Chennaiyin won two, lost two and drew three games last season. But, once injury ended his campaign, they managed just one more win and slumped to the bottom half of the table.
3. Stiven Mendoza
One of ISL and Chennaiyin FC’s success stories, Stiven Mendoza qualifies as one of the best overseas players to have played in India. After two seasons in the ISL, Mendoza played for New York City and Ligue 1 side Amiens. He also made his international debut for Colombia. A career that looked lost was reinvigorated after his stint with Chennaiyin. The 28-year-old remains one of the most loved foreign players by Chennaiyin fans. Many of them have kept track of his career.
Mendoza scored 13 goals, including one in the final, to lead Chennaiyin FC to their maiden ISL title in 2015. Those goals came in only 16 games. He also contributed with three assists and formed a lethal partnership with fellow Brazilian Elano. A season before that, Chennaiyin looked favourites to make the ISL final, but Mendoza went out with a thigh strain after nine games.
2. Anirudh Thapa
They call him one of their own and rightly so. Anirudh Thapa joined Chennaiyin FC straight out of the AIFF Elite Academy as an 18-year-old. Today he is one of India’s best midfielders. In his five seasons at CFC, Thapa has seen the highs of 2017-18 and 2019-20 as well the lows of 2016 and 2018-19. This 23-year-old is the fifth most-capped player of Chennaiyin FC.
Thapa also scored the first goal for Chennaiyin last season. He was named one of the two vice-captains at the club at the start of last season. Thapa ended it wearing the captain’s armband in the side’s final league match against Kerala Blasters.
1. Jeje Lalpekhlua
After five seasons at Chennaiyin FC, Jeje Lalpekhlua was released from the club last season, bringing an end to one of the most storied careers at an ISL club. He is a legend at the club and is loved, not just by Chennaiyin fans but also by fans of Indian football. Jeje left the club as their most-capped player and also as their record goalscorer. The ‘Mizo Sniper’ is cheered on, not just at the Marina Arena but in whichever stadium he plays in India.
In his five seasons at Chennaiyin FC, Jeje made 79 appearances and scored 25 goals, one of them coming in the AFC Cup Qualifiers. He was instrumental in both title-winning seasons for Chennaiyin. Jeje’s goal-poaching skills made him a fan-favourite at the Marina Arena, where he remains one of the most adored players.