Owen Coyle: I had other offers but felt a real connection with Chennaiyin FC

Ahead of his first game in charge of Chennaiyin FC, Coyle spoke to Sportstar, his ambitions for the rest of the Indian Super League season and more.

Owen Coyle is best known for his spells in charge of Burnley and Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League.   -  GETTY IMAGES

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Indian Super League (ISL) club Chennaiyin FC announced the appointment of Scotsman Owen Coyle as its new head coach. The former Burnley and Bolton Wanderers boss has a tough task taking over from John Gregory, who parted ways with the club on Sunday after another poor start to the season. The club is languishing ninth on the points table after six matches.

Ahead of his first game in charge, Coyle spoke to Sportstar on what prompted him to take up the job, his ambitions for the rest of the season and more.

Q. How familiar are you with the Indian football scene and the ISL?

A. I have followed the Indian Super League over the years, since its inception, truth be told as there have always been many friends and colleagues involved in it. I have played with some of the coaches who have been at the ISL, Steve Coppell and Phil Brown for instance. Phil and I played together at Bolton Wanderers and even competed against each other in the Premier League. There’s also a few of my former players here currently. So I am aware about the league and how the brand has grown over the years. And this is another wonderful opportunity, coming to a wonderful club like Chennaiyin.

READ | Chennaiyin appoints Owen Coyle as new head coach

What got you to sign on the dotted line?

I’ve had some very good conversations with the owners Vita Dani and Abhishek Bachchan. I could tell how passionate they are and how much love and care they have for the club. And I think that’s very important. There’s no doubt they are honourable people, which was a big attraction. Their ambition, passion and the outline for the club struck home to me that this is a club on the way up; that has had success but at the same time wants to get back to that level again. I look forward to coming in and playing my part and helping the players and the club in continuing to build the brand. Ultimately, you want Chennaiyin to be known globally. The only way to do that is to keep building. There’s a good solid platform here. We have to enhance things and make them better.

Have you had a word with Gregory? Did you get a handover of any sort?

Not really. I know John in passing, we’ve been a part of English football during different periods. It’s outstanding for him to have won the ISL title in his first season here. Everyone back home is also aware of his success in India, he’s got a very good reputation.

Chennaiyin is placed ninth on the ISL points table after six matches. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam


What are the expectations from owners with you coming after six matches into the season?

As I said, my conversations with the owners have been very positive. Our objective is obviously to take one game at a time and keep improving. Looking at the squad, I think there are some very good players here. Our job is to try and get them to the maximum level. They have shown potential but now we have to get the level of their performance up, to turn those draws into three points. And when you can win games, it’s obviously shown that you can catapult up the league. The other thing that is very important in football is momentum. If you can get on that run it would be great. The club has shown that in previous seasons, have found the momentum and gone on a winning run.

You have a couple of tough away assignments first up against Jamshedpur FC and Northeast United, two teams which have started strongly this season. What’s the plan going ahead?

We know it’s a difficult start with two away games at JFC and NEUFC, but we are coming in with the belief to make the playoffs, and hopefully win the title. Chennaiyin has done it before. Obviously, there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s an exciting challenge. And we believe we can get a team on the field that can win games. And of course, the key is momentum going into the second half of the season.

You have been away from management for a while. How did the break go? Is your approach to coaching different from before?

Obviously, I’ve been out of management for just over a year. I’ve visited a lot of friends at different clubs and looked over a few things. I’ve obviously spent time on improving and learning more of the changes coming in our game. You’re always learning, developing and evolving. Within that time, I was also offered a number of jobs at home and abroad, but I never felt that connection with them. When I spoke to Chennaiyin, I felt a real connection and that’s the main reason to come here. I think my outlook is evolving. I look forward to a great challenge.

Coyle (not in picture) is hopeful of making the playoffs with Chennaiyin this season and 'hopefully win the title.'   -  ISL MEDIA


What is the immediate priority for the team? What have you identified as the areas of improvement?

We start with two tough away games (against JFC and NUEFC), but it is important to instil that positive mentality and belief: that as a group we can win. We have to set the premise of hard work. I think we have talented individuals, but our strength will be as a group always. It’s a team sport, it’s about everyone pulling together in the same direction and giving their absolute everything, on a daily basis on the training ground and in the matches.

READ | Chennaiyin and John Gregory part ways

At this stage, do you think getting into the play-offs is a possibility?

At the moment, if people were to look at the table, they would think CFC wouldn’t be involved in the playoffs. A lot of people would’ve written us off. But that’s fine as the weight is off the peril. We’ll look to put on a winning run and build momentum. In football, wonderful things can happen. So it’ll be important to get the points along the way, put on a winning/unbeaten run. If you look at the table and ask if it is achievable to get to the playoffs? I would say absolutely. We’ll have to work hard together, pull in the same direction and go win football matches. That’s what we’ll have to do!

(With inputs from Shyam Vasudevan)

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