The rise of Chennaiyin's playmaker, Rafael Crivellaro

It has taken some time, but Rafael Crivellaro has staked his claim to be the creative fulcrum in CFC's run into the ISL final.

Chennaiyin FC's Rafael Crivellaro celebrates after scoring the first goal against Hyderabad FC at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Hyderabad on January 10.

Chennaiyin FC's Rafael Crivellaro celebrates after scoring the first goal against Hyderabad FC at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Hyderabad on January 10.   -  KVS Giri

"There is always something sexy about a left-footed player. They are rare," was how former Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory had described his new signing Rafael Crivellaro to the media ahead of the current Indian Super League (ISL) season.

It has taken some time, but Crivellaro has vindicated Gregory's words and staked his claim to be the creative fulcrum in CFC's run into the ISL final.

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Compiling Crivellaro's end of season highlights will be a nightmare for anyone, contemplating which bits to leave out. There were the mazy dribbles, the countless feints, the defence-splitting through balls and some effortless goals. Also among the seven goals and eight assists, was the impeccable 50-yard strike out of nothing.

But before all that, he, like the rest of the team, wasn't being able to hit the right notes.

Having joined the pre-season camp 10 days after its commencement due to Visa issues, the 31-year-old midfielder had to take up a role on the bench in the 3-0 defeat to FC Goa in the first game of the season.

In the well-documented pre-Owen Coyle era, he didn't manage a goal or an assist. He came close, however, when he set up Nerijus Valskis against ATK, but the striker put the ball over the bar.

In the off-season, CFC signing six new foreigners was like a breath of fresh air. However, that also brought about certain changes. Crivellaro explains, "We had to get to know each other better. There were a lot of new faces in the team."

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However, things changed for the better. He adds, "But that changed with time, and the change with Owen coming in also significantly turned things around for us, gave us our belief back."

Under Coyle, Chennaiyin has been more direct, overturning defence into attack, to find itself at the opposition box with quick interchanges.

On the Scotsman's impact, he says, "It is a more attacking and direct approach, which is surely something that has suited our team better, and for myself."

On Coyle's part, he has only given Crivellaro the proverbial keys to his car to help unlock his attributes.

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"I think players have to feel that the coach trusts and values them to give the opportunity to express themselves. We have encouraged Rafa to go and try things. In the forward areas when we need a goal, we know he can try things. He benefits from what the teammates do for him," says Coyle.

Crivellaro has played the most key passes - 40 - in the team, heading into the final.

The front four of Valskis, Lallianzualla Chhangte, Andre Schembri and Crivellaro have been the envy of the league in the second stage of the season. Crivellaro owes it to the teamwork and the tight-knit group developed by Coyle and his number two Sandy Stewart.

Now, he wants to help the team get over the line in the final against ATK. "It will be a fitting example of teamwork and ability if we go on to win the final."

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