ISL Final: Chennaiyin and the last five minutes!

The final of the second edition of the Indian Super League featured a Goa side, with flair and attack-mindedness coupled with a fair sprinkling of counter-attacking zest, and a Chennai outfit, expert at repelling and seeped in pragmatism but with the necessary amount of firepower to destroy opponents.

Stiven Mendoza, who turned the final on its head in the dying minutes, sets off on a celebratory run after striking the third Chennai goal.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

Marco Materazzi, the Chennaiyin manager, kept his cool during trying times in the league.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “Next year we will be doing a ballet,” said Chennaiyin FC manager Marco Materazzi cheekily when asked if his team had played “rough” football in the final. “Here in Goa they have one player Gregory (Arnolin) who puts in a lot of character,” he went on. “I admire him. Similarly we also put in character. We scored three goals and deserved the win.”

There has never been any consensus on what constitutes defensive football. So has there ever been something similar on attacking football. Doesn’t endless lateral, but slick, passing devoid of goals get monotonous too? Doesn’t long-ball tactics even when they fetch goals get boring too?

The best of the teams have always been those that have specialised in one and added the other as ammunition. The final of the second edition of the Indian Super League between FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC was an example — between a Goa side, with flair and attack-mindedness coupled with a fair sprinkling of counter-attacking zest, and a Chennai outfit, expert at repelling and seeped in pragmatism but with the necessary amount of firepower to destroy opponents.

The final five minutes brought out the best of this. When Joffre’s excellent free-kick seemed to have felled a wall, Chennai hit back as only they could to snatch the title from Goa’s grasp.

“I don’t think so,” Materazzi said when asked if it was fair to bill the final as a battle between a defensive and an offensive side. “It’s the Brazilian culture to play such free-flowing football. But I don’t think our game style can be defensive. We have scored a lot of goals too.”

 

Ever since the team and their manager set such high standards last year, reaching the semifinal, in spite of being forced into doing a lot of things, there has indeed been such intense scrutiny. The way the club conducted their transfer business, which seemed so judicious on paper, only turned that into expectations. In that sense Chennaiyin FC’s title triumph is as much a victory of managing expectations as anything else.

“For me it’s a valuable target,” Materazzi said. “Last year we came to the semis and reaching the final this year is a great achievement. It doesn’t really matter where you are coaching — Germany or England or anywhere else. It is about doing something for developing football around the world. The only regret this time was that I couldn’t be a part of the playing XI.”

Right through the season, Materazzi’s tough demeanour has been on display. Even when the side were rock-bottom, with just 10 points from 10, he emphatically proclaimed that his team were back on track. What followed was three scorelines reading 4-1, 4-0 and 3-0 in his team’s favour, as if to vindicate his belief.

When cries of his team being one-dimensional made the rounds, he shook things up. There was a parallel debate on too which was on whether he was tinkering too much with his team. But in the end, his decision to rotate paid off as he kept his whole squad fresh enough as compared to last year when they were riddled with injuries.

Even marquee signing and skipper Elano was relegated to the bench for most matches in the latter half of the league except for the semi-final second-leg.

“You have to make choices,” he said. “I have 26 players and my choices are always pointed toward making changes to win the game. Elano accepts those decisions. I also have to count on the physical factors. Bruno Pelissari was in better shape and we are all happy that we won the title.” What it did was to help young capable Indian players like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Thoi Singh, given ample space and time, to shine. Raphael Augusto, who the manager described as the best player in the ISL, was an unknown quantity. The way he was polished into a diamond was exemplary.

If Elano had ended up as the top-scorer last year with eight goals, the fresh and fit Mendoza ended this season with 13. This earned him the Golden Boot and Hero of the League awards. Such was Edel’s goalkeeping that from being the team that conceded the most number of goals in 2014, they ended up being the one that let in the least. It fetched him the Golden Glove award.

Hence, as much as it was the victory for the Chennai players, it was a step up for Materazzi the manager too. Some of his stereotypical mannerisms just added colour — like a press conference full of mono-syllabic answers prior to the match against Goa in Chennai; saying that referees can cost his team a play-off place; refusing to attend a post-match press conference after the defeat to NorthEast United FC as a mark of protest.

“For now I want to enjoy. I wanted to win this,” said Materazzi. “Today my contract is over. If I get a chance to be here for the next 10 years I’ll take it. But I’ll wait for one month. But for now, I’ll always have the club and its owners in my heart. The team is built and solid.”