Chennai City turns to Spanish quartet to play 'beautiful, effective football'

Appointed in March 2018, Mohammad Akbar Bin Abdul Nawas has gone about defining the team's style of play and recruiting the players who will put his philosophy into practice.

From left to right: Pedro Manzi Javier, Roberto Eslava Suarez, Mohammad Akbar Bin Abdul Nawas (Chennai City coach), Sandro Rodriguez Felipe, Nestor Gordillo   -  Aashin Prasad

Mohammad Akbar Bin Abdul Nawas has a clear idea of how he wants his team Chennai City FC to play its football. “We like to build up from the back, dominate possession, and then play in the opponent’s half. It’s not because we want to play beautiful football, but we want to play effective football," Akbar said after he took charge of the I-League team in March.

The challenge for Akbar was to bring in the required players for a side which finished eighth in the previous campaign. The Singaporean teamed up with his then assistant Jordi Gris Vila, an analyst with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City in the 2017-18 season, and travelled to Spain to scout players who could imbibe his philosophy.

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Before Vila left to take up the No. 2 role at MLS side New York City FC earlier this month, he helped CCFC rope in four Spaniards — Pedro Manzi Javier (forward), Sandro Rodriguez Felipe (right-side midfielder), Roberto Eslava Suarez (wingback) and Nestor Gordillo (midfielder) — for the 2018-19 I-League season.

Until their meeting with Vila and Akbar, the quartet had little knowledge of Indian football. It was Vila's persuasion which enabled the four, who were playing in the lower rungs of Spanish football last season, to come together at Coimbatore, CCFC's home for the next four years.

Gordillo, 28, had a familiar face in Jose Luis Espinosa Arroyo, also known as Tiri, from their time together at Atletico Madrid B in 2016. Tiri currently plies his trade with Jamshedpur FC in the Indian Super League after two spells with ATK. It was Tiri's experience in the country which proved to be reaffirming for Gordillo in his latest venture. "According to Tiri, it is very comfortable in India and that the football is getting professional. Personally, I felt that was great," Gordillo said.

Chennai City FC new signing Nestor Gordillo during his time as a Atletico Madrid B player.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT


The Spaniards, who have never played professionally outside their country, understand the challenge in front of them. "It is a great opportunity to develop as a player," said the 29-year-old Manzi, who last played for CE L'Hospitalet in the Tercera Division. "The adaptation to the country, the culture, the food, the climate, the language — will be akin to starting a new life. On the field, adapting and understanding with the other players and the coach will be the challenge."

Akbar hopes that the influx of Spanish talent, who boast supreme technical qualities, will help the young local core at Chennai City improve. Suarez, 30, concurs with his coach and aims to channel his countrymen's experiences to achieve new heights at the club. "We have been playing for years at a good level category in Spain and I think that will help both the team and the players to take the football to a higher level," said Suarez.

The quartet is set to depart for Coimbatore on Sunday where they will be introduced to their new team-mates before the pre-season camp begins on August 1.

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