The Marina Machans are on the coaching hunt once again before the 2022-23 season.

They say that change is the only constant and that has been the case with Chennaiyin FC. Changes have happened to their personnel and their results in the last two years. But sadly, the two have been inversely proportional.

The two-time champions and the second-highest scoring side in ISL history have endured a poor run in the last two seasons. It seems like it’s been ages since their appearance in the final of the 2019-20 edition.

Their list of failures in the last two seasons stem from their long bandwagon of coaches who have come and gone. Now they are in the search for their sixth coach in the last six seasons. For a side who were consistent in the first three editions, the last six have been insipid, to say the least, bar their blitz to the final in 2019-20.

But why are Chennaiyin FC struggling to get that right coach and what do they need to do to rectify it? Who could be the right coach for the Marina Machans, we attempt to answer all these questions here.

Build up to 2022-23 season

Sourav Das
Das has signed for Chennaiyin FC from SC East Bengal (Courtesy: ISL Media)

The consequences of the two poor seasons have seen Chennaiyin FC be proactive in the market. They have already signed Alexander Romario Jesuraj from FC Goa and Sourav Das and Mohammed Rafique from East Bengal.

While they have shown their hand with the players, the fact remains that they are still searching for a coach. There have been reports that they are speeding up their process to sign a good coach and have zeroed in on some targets. But is that the right way around? History rather seems to suggest the contrary.

Team troubles

A trend that has emerged across unsuccessful ISL teams is their lack of consistency and ineptitude in patience and project. Chennaiyin FC, unfortunately, has fallen victim to this as well. The lack of cohesion among the board has filtered onto the backroom staff and onto the on-field personnel as well.

The side has changed three coaches in the last two seasons but has not finished above eighth in the last two. What’s more? They have been the lowest-scoring team in the last two editions consecutively. Therefore, their goalscoring troubles have forced the hand of the coaches to employ reactive tactics. This puts more pressure on their defence and sags the entire team down.

This undesirable situation has now left the club and their well-wishers scratching their heads on what could be the magic potion that gets them back to the top. But, after all, it may not need a magic potion. Rather, they could do with some organised planning and appoint a smart and credentialed coach.

Coach first, players next

Marco Materazzi ISL
The 2006 FIFA World Cup winner led Chennaiyin to the title in ISL 2015 (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Let’s take the current examples of Bengaluru FC and Hyderabad FC. The two clubs appointed good, tactical coaches in Marco Pezzaiouli and Manolo Marquez. The success of the latter is well-documented while the former is slowly bringing his imprint of pressing and fast-paced football to Bengaluru FC.

Both clubs backed the vision that these coaches had and backed it with the players that they deemed fit for their system. Manolo Marquez’s Spanish-based possession style saw him buy good dribbles and distributors in Joao Victor, Joel Chianese, Edu Garcia and others. He has also now spent a good amount of time setting his team in the way he envisions them to play. The result of it is an ISL title for the Nizams in the recently concluded season.

FC Goa did the same with Sergio Lobera and he won them the inaugural League Shield. Chennaiyin FC themselves did the same in their two title-winning seasons with Marco Materazzi (2015) and John Gregory (2017-18). This shows the trend of appointing a good coach before going for the players.

Chennaiyin FC’s lack of project building

The biggest clubs in the world today intend to build a winning project around managers and back them to do it. Liverpool and Manchester City are glowing examples in this regard. The aforementioned examples of Hyderabad and Bengaluru FC also expedite this case. Kerala Blasters too, went down this track with Ivan Vukomanovic who led them to the ISL final last season.

Chennaiyin FC’s Achilles heel has been that they have not taken this route before. Neither have they had the patience for it. This worked at the very inception of the ISL as all the clubs ran for the early success. But now, clubs focus on long-term success instead of the low-hanging fruits. Sadly, Chennaiyin FC have continued the other way and the results are there for us to see.

The Marina Machans have committed this mistake for the last few seasons where they go for the players first and then the coach. It is a given in football that the players play in the style that the coach wants them to play. Among the current crop of foreigners, only two of them are expected to be retained by the club. Therefore, it is important that they consult with the coach regarding which two foreigners are to be retained.

Therefore, for Chennaiyin FC to build a successful side, they need to focus on building a long-term project, appoint a coach with fresh ideas, back him and the staff with the players who fit into their playing style and build their identity through the same.

While no one can guarantee success, there are umpteen references of clubs that have taken this path. Therefore, all Chennaiyin FC need is meticulous and organised planning and just some patience to stick with their project without for once looking for instant results.

Type of coach Chennaiyin FC needs

So having said everything that has happened and not happened with Chennaiyin FC, the time has come to answer the million-dollar question. What type of coach does Chennaiyin FC need?

Chennaiyin FC have always been a team that relies on pace and direct play. They don’t possess players like those of FC Goa, who have the capability to hold play and distribute. They can bank on the quickness of players like Anirudh Thapa, Ninthoi Meetei, Edwin Vanspaul and Suhail Pasha among others. Thus, Chennaiyin FC have a good core group of young players who have played together for a few years and are cohesive enough with each other. The new coach coming in can tap into this and leverage it to their advantage.

Owen Coyle
Owen Coyle took Chennaiyin FC to the ISL title in his debut season at the club (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Under Owen Coyle, Chennaiyin FC employed a very effective counter-attacking style expedited with players like Chhangte. They also found great success in employing a two-man frontline. Employing effective and quick counters and interplay helped Chennaiyin FC’s cause. Rafael Crivellaro’s creativity and Nerijus Valskis’ great form also helped the same.

Last season, Chennaiyin FC and Northeast United were the only two teams who underperformed their xG (expected goals) tally. Therefore, there is plenty of creative talent on the side, but not goalscoring ones. This situation has been arising despite Chennaiyin FC investing in six foreign forwards in the last two seasons.

Therefore, a well-credentialed British coach can find the team’s qualities and capabilities conducive to their approach. If Chennaiyin FC decide to sign a coach of a different nationality, then they should be very clear on his ideals, and his experience. They need to ensure that players who provide that work rate and are committed to the team remain at the club based on the coach’s need.

Coach’s route to success

Eelco Schattorie
Eelco Schattorie has previously coached NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters in the ISL (Courtesy: ISL Media)

A lot of names have been linked with the Chennaiyin FC coach’s job including the likes of Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie. While the Dutchman might not fit the club’s demands and is demanding himself, there would be plenty of suitors for the job. The club need to find a name that is well-respected and has the right credentials to back their work in the big European leagues or elsewhere.

The appointments of Csaba Laszlo and Bozidar Bandovic who plied their trade in lower leagues of Eastern Europe has rather been seen as a quick fix, cost-cutting exercise rather than an inspired appointment. If anything, it has just seen the club go coach hopping in the last few seasons. This is a club that has won titles and played in AFC competitions. So it is high time they act like one.

Chennaiyin FC need to put in a strenuous process to get the right coach first. The coach needs to be given freedom, belief and time to set things right. A lot is not going well with the club right now and things will not change in a day. But the board for once need to get their head out of the water and look to the horizon rather than look down on the deep abyss below, the case which has been for the last two seasons.

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