There was a calmness in Rafael Crivellaro’s demeanour as he ambled through the lobby of a popular five-star hotel in Chennai. Sporting a blue Chennaiyin FC T-shirt and matching polo shorts, he even joked about a quick getaway to Spain before the club’s next match.
Unlike his jovial mood, it has not been happy days for Chennaiyin in the current season, with the team languishing at the bottom of the table after losing its first three matches.
“Look, we didn’t start well, and we know that. The team is new and has not yet gelled well [till now]. Once the players get to know each other, it will be better for us. Everyone knows the situation, and we are working every single day to improve it,” Crivellaro told Sportstar.
Chennaiyin fans have seen their team lift the ISL title twice, but the last win came in the 2017-18 season.
Since then, they have been hungry to see their team lift silverware.
When Owen Coyle decided to return to the club for his second stint as head coach, there was renewed hope among the Marina Machans faithful. So far, it has not gone according to the script for the Scotsman.
But the Brazilian has faith in the ISL Shield-winning coach.
“In my opinion, he is managing well. He always speaks positively with us and tries to help if any player is under pressure - especially the Indian players. We believe in him and his training [methods],” added Crivellaro.
In three matches in the ISL so far, Chennaiyin’s defence has been leaky – it has conceded eight goals. The only goal it scored was from Crivellaro scored, in his team’s 1-3 loss against defending champion Mohun Bagan Super Giant.
With the defence and forward line in dire straits, Crivellaro has almost been a lone wolf in the middle of the park. Carving out four chances in the season till now, he has seen his forwards fail to convert all of them. Given the plethora of attacking talent, Chennaiyin has in players like Connor Shields, Jordan Murray, and Rahim Ali, the opponent’s net has not rattled as much as it should have.
“When I make a pass and it doesn’t go well, I don’t go and speak to the players. I think anyone can make a mistake. We can make our own decisions.”
Crivellaro believes that the goals will eventually come, but the real challenge will be tightening things at the back.
“If we go 1-0 down, we have to play twice as hard and ensure that we do not concede another goal. Now, we are not worrying so much about scoring goals but focusing on keeping clean sheets. We have to start building from the back.”
The Brazilian is one of the six captains for Chennaiyin this season, along with Jordan Murray, Ryan Edwards, Aakash Sangwan, Lazar Cirkovic and Rahim Ali.
Inevitably, he has the added responsibility of speaking to the youngsters -” We talked with the players. We told the younger ones to try and forget what has happened in the past. We need to look forward to what is coming because I know when we start winning and gain momentum, it is going to get easy.”
Apart from helping to improve Chennaiyin’s fortunes, Crivellaro’s main concern would be staying fit throughout the season.
The Brazilian has seen his season get derailed for Chennaiyin before. In the 2020-21 season, an ankle injury ruled him out for the season, after playing just seven matches. But the 34-year-old believes in living in the moment and not worrying about what might happen.
“To be honest, I’ve never had a horrible injury. Yes, I have been out injured because of bad tackles, and I’ve had to be at home for many months because of the calendar in India.
“Then, I had a muscle injury again, and I could not recover in time. It was difficult to come back and reach the level of fitness [needed]. But, this was in the past. Since I signed for Jamshedpur, I have played regularly,” he said.
Chennaiyin will resume ISL action with an away match against Hyderabad FC, and Crivellaro is certain it will be a difficult match.
But the Brazilian, having spent many years in Indian football, has realised that every team can be difficult on their day. A prime example of this is NorthEast United, which finished bottom of the table last season, beating Chennaiyin 3-0 in its second match of the current campaign.
After Hyderabad, it does not get easier for Chennaiyin with Punjab FC, FC Goa and East Bengal waiting in the wings - “Results are not coming, and right now, we are worse than the others. But we will take one match at a time.”
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