When heartbreak in the biggest game of the season does little to dampen the mood, that’s when you know there is a bigger picture in play.
Chennaiyin FC’s fairy tale run under Owen Coyle is not news. It has been written at length and is one of the most discussed things this Indian Super League season – with good reason.
The Marina Machans rose from rock bottom, outplayed the league’s most entertaining side (FC Goa) in the playoffs and ended up as the dominant side in the final.
“We want to win, but also entertain while we do,” Coyle said when taking charge in early December. They did as promised and continued to do so at the Fatorda Stadium last Saturday.
Right from kick-off they moved the ball with urgency, passed with accuracy and only a goal-line clearance saw the teams stay on level terms. All of that in under 60 seconds.
READ |ISL final: Valskis wins Golden Boot, Gurpreet takes Golden Glove
Chennaiyin did it all in Margao. It registered the lion’s share of possession (62%), had 279 more touches of the ball, played 299 more passes with a lot more accuracy (75% compared to ATK’s 58%).
ATK scored more goals, took home the title but the plaudits were shared. It requires two teams to put on a show and Chennaiyin played the lead role.
Attend a few pressers of Coyle’s and his unabashed love for the game rubs off onto you. And that goes a long way in explaining the team’s turnaround.
He always spoke of positivity and taking it one game a time. If it was repetitive, no one complained since it worked like a charm.
He came in the middle of the season, made minor tweaks to his predecessor John Gregory’s system and everything suddenly fell into place. A side that was struggling to string together a few meaningful passes, steamrolled it way up the table.
It was not a new manager bounce. It was hard work on the training ground being reflected game after game.
ALSO READ |ISL 2019-20: Back for sequel, Antonio Habas delivers another hit with ATK
“If you don’t take your chances, it will come back to haunt you,” Coyle said after the final. “The spoils went to ATK so all the very best to them.”
There might be regret but there won’t be sleepless nights – for players and fans. This team passed all trials and tribulations, they brought back fans to the stands and earned back lost respect.
“Chennaiyin was the one team we wanted to avoid in the playoffs,” Clifford Miranda, the Goa interim manager.
From being an afterthought to being feared by the best in the country, that is Coyle’s legacy. And as for this Chennaiyin side? It will live on as a part of the Indian football folklore.