The South Indian side rode high on the Spanish flair of Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez to lift their maiden top-flight title.
Four different champions with completely different footballing philosophies have got their names etched on the I-league trophy nameplate in the last four seasons. The official football league in India has had some crazy stories in recent times and Chennai City FC make it even more interesting, having lost their most-bankable player from last season, Soosairaj Michael, to the glaze of the Indian Super League.
The world looks at the Premier League with wide-eyed amazement whenever an underdog beats a stronger side. On Indian shores, the Indian Arrows outplayed the mighty Mohun Bagan 3-1 a few days ago and it did not even look like an upset. The U-19 squad used their chances well, missed some of them and harried the Mariners into breaking down and accepting defeat.
Chennai City were brilliant throughout the campaign integrating flair and efficiency in their tactics
Last season, the battle for the title had gone to the last day of the competition, with as many as three sides vying for it. NEROCA FC, the team from Manipur, had arguably played one of the most attacking brands of football this nation has witnessed, but lost to the resolute of Minerva Punjab and the creativity of Chencho Gyeltshen. The ‘Bhutanese Ronaldo’ switched allegiances to ISL side Bengaluru FC, but after a stop-start beginning, signed for NEROCA on loan and looked to have found his rhythm back.
That was last campaign.
The season prior to that was a 5000:1 kind of story. India’s own Leicester City, Aizawl FC, lifted the title with Indian players playing a key role. Jayesh Rane, Lalram Chullova, Zohmingliana Ralte and Albino Gomes, all played key roles, well supported by the midfield pairing of Mahmoud Al Amnah and Alfred Jaryan. The defensive contribution of Kingsley Obunmeme, too, cannot be ignored. This win was masterminded by the soft-spoken Khalid Jamil, currently at the helm of Bagan.
It was the Mariners who lifted the trophy the season prior to that and they displayed a brand of football that was balanced – both in attack and in defence. Spearheaded by the creative machismo of Sony Norde and the wily thinking of manager Sanjoy Sen, the Kolkata outfit ended the city’s drought.
A new year, a new champion again.
Chennai City have been riding on the attacking exploits of Pedro Manzi and Nestor Gordillo, two Spaniards who have made a name for themselves and look set to stay and dominate. The South Indian club have taken all the right steps, with two deals with foreign clubs in two successive seasons to develop both their reputation and their quality at the grassroots.
Amidst all the humdrum, I-league CEO Sunando Dhar recently said that this will be the last season for the league. This rang a warning bell for the football faithful of the nation, that have strived very hard to invest their loyalties in the league, that has continued to develop native footballers amidst the fanfare, glitz and blaze of the ISL.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar has already stated that the competition won’t take place anymore
Khel Now has followed a lot of discussions online and on several forums that have time and again repeated that the I-league needs to stay. The ISL, on the other hand, has had two winners in its four seasons, with ATK and Chennaiyin FC sharing the laurels. The fifth campaign has seen a dwindling response from the fans, even when the best team of the country, Bengaluru FC, is a part of the package.
The All India Football Federation is sitting on a fast-ticking time-bomb, with the Asian Football Confederation having already given them a timeline to decide on the dual-league system and to put an end to the status quo. Although, the official announcement about ending the top flight in its current avatar hasn’t been made yet, if this does not happen soon, India looks set to lose its AFC recognition that will slash the little hope that was rekindled by her inspired performances at the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The signs look ugly and everything indicates that the league is set to be frozen. Until then, let’s just congratulate Chennai and allow them to bask in the glory.