Akbar Nawas: Persisting with philosophy led to Chennai City's success

I-League leader Chennai City FC coach Akbar Nawas has turned heads with an attacking brand of football that has brought the team within touching distance of the title.

Chennai City FC coach Akbar Nawas (Left) has brought the club closer to winning the title in its third season in the I-League.   -  NISSAR AHMAD

With just three games left, Chennai City FC, surprise package of I-League 2018-19, can see the title is within its sight in what is the club’s third season. For coach Akbar Nawas, the team has already gone beyond expectations but the Singaporean is focused on getting the job done. Excerpts from a chat with Sportstar.

How do you sum up the season so far and what were the expectations before the season?

I think no one expected this. We started the season on a fresh slate and new mindset on how to play. So to be challenging for the title at this stage of the season was very much unexpected. To be honest our target was to be in the top six and at best finish in the top four. But now that we are here we want to go for the title and win it.


What has been the secret of success for CCFC?

I think right after the last season, we started from March to June, even up to July, we focused on scouting for the right talents both local and foreign. We started training only in August. That is the major part of where we are today.


Despite outscoring teams (40 goals), there will be a focus on your defensive record (23 goals conceded). Will you be circumspect in your approach in your final two matches or continue to play to your strengths?

As a coach, I love to play to my strengths and play the football we have been playing. We will play out style but we have to be mindful that if we want to win the title we also need to have some balance. This is what the players have to learn.


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When you decided to go for this approach, were you willing to make the sacrifice that you might not be successful defensively?

Most certainly. We had a three-year plan and the first year was us keeping the ball. To be fair to the players, I didn't coach much on defending. In the second year, we plan to find the balance and in the third season, we must be sure we are effective in our possession. But we are fighting for the title. So now is a very good learning process for the players to experience this and they will come out of this as better players.


You and your team has received plaudits for the attacking style of football played this season. What, in your opinion, would you consider the biggest success of your first season: the I-league title or how quickly the players have bought into your philosophy?

Personally, philosophy. That has given me much joy. A lot of people were saying you need technically competent people to play this style. But we have proven, with players who were not as technically strong at the start can buy into this style. The challenge was how brave you can be to persist with when you are losing. The byproduct of this is what has got us here to fight for the title.


Can you speak about the performances of your players?

All our foreigners came from third and fourth division and for most of them, it was the first time out of their country. They have performed beyond expectations but more importantly, they have integrated well with local players and helped them. The performance of locals like Ajith Kumar, Edwin Sydney, Pravitto Raju and Alexander Romario has been very good. Ajith was a central midfielder and we put him as a left-back and has done really well. Edwin has also been very good giving good assists. So to tell we depend on foreigners is not fair.

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What have been the most memorable matches so far and ones where you could have done better?

I think both the matches against East Bengal because we dominated those games. We are a small team compared to East Bengal be it our experience, resources or history. We went to Kolkata in front of their fans and dominated them and beat them. With the squad they have, they should be running away with the title. So that win was a special occasion for me as a coach.

Similarly, the match against NEROCA we should have defended better. But it was a blessing in disguise. It was a footballing life lesson for the players.


Does the possibility of Real Kashmir being awarded six maximum points and six goals play on your and the players' minds in the title run in?

Nope. It won't as we have to stick to our task n our remaining games as focused as we can be. But for sure if they are given those points then the league as a whole will be affected.

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