Nallappan Mohanraj has had a tough start to his career as a Chennaiyin FC player. Signed along with Dhanpal Ganesh to add local flavour to the ISL side, the left back and his fellow defenders have conceded five goals in the first two matches as Chennaiyin sits sixth in the table with the solitary point on the board.
But the Namakkal-born player affirms he and the team are only looking forward to the rest of the season. “Even last year we made a slow start to the season but ended up winning it. We are playing at home and we need to get back on track.”
Having played in Chennai during some part of his youth, Mohanraj feels a lot more needs to be done to improve local football. “The only positive thing I’m seeing is that a lot of corporate teams are playing in the CFA Senior Division. The players are earning a lot better now. But they need to be more professional. Sometimes matches get cancelled in the last minute which is a problem.
“The calendar needs to be planned better as players aren’t sure of when the league would start. Also, some players leave midway to attend all-India tournaments like the Santosh Trophy, so the clubs are left with a smaller squad to plan with. These are some of the issues that need to be sorted, but don’t know if they will be.”
He cites Nicolai Adam’s stewardship of the U-16 side as an example that local football authorities should follow. “The U-16 side is a project that has been the result of three years of planning. The current side, which will play next year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, have been a group since their U-14 days, and have played international tournaments. This helps the team perform better.
“The local teams at the youth level don’t put in an effort to build a squad around the same group of players. Before a tournament coaches bring the players together for a week-long camp once a year, which is not adequate. And after the tournament, the players are sent back home. This does not help in the development of the players, especially when they go on to represent Tamil Nadu in the Santosh Trophy. There has to be a better long-term vision.
“But at the end of the day, I can give suggestions and you can write an article, but who is going to implement them?”
From his home town in Namakkal, he made the six-hour journey to Chennai and spent three years at the SAI hostel. He then moved to Jamshedpur to attend trials at the Tata Football Academy. “I went to Jamshedpur to attend the trials at the Tata Football Academy but I didn’t make it. Former Indian midfielder Carlton Chapman encouraged me and asked me to go to Bangalore. I made it there at HAL (currently playing in the Bangalore Super Division) and in 2006-07 we qualified for the National Football League and that’s where my professional football career began.”
When he was plying his trade for HAL, Mohanraj caught the eye of the scouts for the Under-19 national side. “Railways coach Soundarajan called me for a trial and I got selected in the team. That was a ticket for me to Mohun Bagan.” Mohanraj spent five seasons at the Kolkata giant and has played for India on four occasions.
Dhanpal Ganesh, 22, has yet to see any action for Chennaiyin this year. He was drafted into the ISL last year but an injury during national duty meant an entire season on the sidelines for the midfielder. This year, the Chennai lad is fighting for a place in the eleven. “There are quite a few players, especially the foreigners, who are competing for the same midfield spot as I am.
“But training with them, I have improved my game. Even during pre-season I improved physically and mentally as well. This was the first time I played in Italy and the new environment toughened me.”
However, it is India coach Stephen Constantine who has played a big part in his progress. “I have to thank Stephen Constantine as he organised individual training for me, in Goa, during my recovery from injury last year. I don’t think any other player has had the luxury of being trained one-on-one with the physical trainer and the coaches.
“In fact, he wants me to be part of the next camp for the national side, scheduled for March 2017. So, I’m thankful he is showing faith in me.”
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