ISL Season 7: Spirited Chennaiyin pin hopes on Laszlo magic

Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev
Chennaiyin FC have roped in Tajikistan winger Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev. File photo: ISL

Chennaiyin FC are known for their exciting brand of football that keep spectators on the edge of their seats just like a racy Kollywood potboiler.

One would expect a lot of goals, drama and cards when Chennaiyin play. Over the years, they have dished out many action-packed see-saw Indian Super League (ISL) encounters and thrilled supporters and neutrals alike. The team, co-owned by Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan and cricketer M S Dhoni, have won the title twice and finished runners-up once, a record that testifies to their consistency in the seven-year-old league.

For the upcoming edition of the glitzy league which kickstarts in Goa on November 20, the 'Super Machans' have secured the services of eight new players that include five foreigners.

Chennaiyin's first match of the season is against Jamshedpur FC, who are coached by their former manager Owen Coyle, on November 24.

European weapons

Despite changing their core team of players, Chennaiyin appear to be well equipped to clinch their third ISL title. 

Chennaiyin have released 10 players from their last season's squad, including India international Jeje Lalpekhlua and last edition's top-scorer Nerijus Valskis who joined East Bengal and Jamshedpur FC respectively. They have also parted ways with Romanian centre-back Lucian Goian, who captained them to a runners-up finish in the 2019-20 season.

The other players released by Chennaiyin are Tondonba Singh, Andre Schembri, Laldinliana Renthlei, Zohmingliana Ralte, Sanjiban Ghosh, Dragos Firtulescu, and Masih Saighani. 

The management has brought in two proven overseas players -  Slovakian striker Jakub Sylvestr and Bosnian centre-back Enes Sipovic - which is a major boost heading into the new campaign. The latter is expected to fill in the void left by the veteran Romanian. Another major acquisition is winger Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev, Tajikistan's most-capped international with 68 caps so far. 

Bissau-Guinean forward Esmael Goncalves 'Isma' will also be a vital component in their attack. With several years of top-flight football in Portugal, Scotland, France, Iran and Japan under his belt, the 29-year-old will be key to Chennaiyin’s title aspirations.

Local talents

They will join a bunch of extremely talented Indian players including defenders Lalchhuanmawia Fanai and Jerry Lalrinzuala, midfielders Anirudh Thapa and Lallianzuala Chhangte and goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. 

Chennaiyin have also snapped up two local talents - Reagen Singh (defender) and Samik Mitra (goalkeeper) to bolster their bench strength.

Brazilian flavour

Both the foreigners retained by Chennaiyin are Brazilians - midfielder Rafael Crivellaro and defender Eli Sabia. In a bid to shore up their midfield, they have also signed another Brazilian - Emerson Gomes de Moura, better known as Memo, whose prowess was on display for Jamshedpur FC in the last three seasons. 

The 'miracle man'

Chennaiyin's new coach is the Romania-born Csaba Laszlo. He replaces Owen Coyle, who propelled them to a runners-up finish last year after taking charge midway their campaign. The 56-year-old Laszlo had coaching stints in eight countries, including two national teams - Uganda and Lithuania. He earned the moniker 'Miracle Man’ for guiding Uganda to their highest ranking of 91 from 181. His primary task at Chennaiyin will be sorting out their defence. The franchise will be banking on his tactical acumen to plug their leaky backline which conceded 26 goals while scoring 32 last year. 

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Samik Mitra, B Y Revanth, and Vishal Kaith.

Defenders: Eli Sabia, Deepak Tangri, Balaji Ganesan, Aqib Nawab, Enes Sipovic, Reagan Singh, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Lalchhuanmawia, and Remi.

Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Memo, Germanpreet Singh, Thoi Singh, Lallianzuala Changte, Pandiyan Sinivasan, Rafael Crivellaro, Dhanpal Ganesh, Abhijit Sarkar, Edwin Vanspaul, and Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev.

Forwards: Jakub Sylvestr, Rahim Ali, Esmael Goncalves, and Aman Chetri.

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