The Chennai boss is looking forward to the challenge of the top flight…

League newbies Chennai City and Minerva Punjab lock horns with each other at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai on Sunday evening. With more than just three points at stake, both teams will look to announce themselves with a domineering performance.

Speaking to the media ahead of the crunch clash, City coach Robin Charles Raja stressed upon the fact that both teams being top-flight novices might not affect the quality of the game. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be 11 versus 11 on the pitch,” said Raja. “It will not matter if the team is new to the I-League or not. Both of us are into coaching and, with the players we have, we will have a good game, hopefully.”

Despite being handed less than a month to assemble a squad, City have signed many household names, including Dharmaraj Ravanan, Abhishek Das and Dhanpal Ganesh. Underlining his coaching experience, the Chennai Football League winner promised to deliver, with the aid of his players.

“Dharmaraj is a player with good experience,” said Raja. “I’ve been into coaching for over 20 years now. The feeling is just the same and, with these players, we will definitely do well.”

With many players joining the camp only in late December and a few signing on the dotted lines only after the turn of the year, City players have had little time to mesh. However, the Tamil Nadu-born coach banks on his personnel’s experience as he identified that as an advantage. He said, “You can take this both as a disadvantage and an advantage. Every team has added new players after the ISL. You can say that this is a disadvantage to a certain extent, but players who have already played in the I-League – players such as Karanjit [Singh] and Dharmaraj – will be an advantage.”

Quizzed about their game plan, he denied giving away even a slight hint as he politely asked the gathering to wait until Sunday evening to become aware of the same. He said, “Andrew [Oakley] and I have discussed this extensively with the players. By tomorrow evening, you’ll have figured out our game plan. Just give it a little time.”

City’s media partners SportStar Live reported on Saturday that the club were unhappy with Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu’s astronomical rent structure. With the government expecting the city’s only I-League club to cough up 4, 00,000 as rent, the club are even rumoured to be weighing up the chances of shifting their base. Asked about the situation, he said, “Our President Rohit Ramesh has been a great support to the team and players since the day he took over the club. The issues with SDAT and Chennai Football Association are being taken care of by him. We just concentrate on the team as we intend to do our best on the pitch; we want to give the best with what we have.”

Given Raja’s lack of celebrity and City being a new face in the big league, even football pundits are unaware of their strategies and style. However, given his pre-match answers, his approach reeks of managerial mastermind Arsene Wenger as he appears keen to offer his players ample freedom on the pitch.

“I think the experience of Ravanan and company will help the team greatly. As the game starts, every player, coach and team will read the game quickly. Andrew and I definitely cannot feed them everything; our players will read the game better, and they will do their bit,” he concluded.