Though Raman Vijayan had “missed the opportunity” to be with Chennaiyin FC (CFC) in the first Indian Super League (ISL) season, despite talks with the team management, his expert analysis of CFC, as an observer made him think about how things would have been different had he been with the club.
The one big question on his mind had been: “When there is so much (talent) in the local (Chennai, and broadly Tamil Nadu) (sic), why haven’t they connected?!”
And that’s what he primarily fancies doing now as the assistant coach of the CFC. “We have to focus a lot on youth development and execute a long-term plan with regard to that from this year. We have to be focused on bringing lots of players to the first team and educate the coaches and players in the youth system about the team’s philosophy,” said Vijayan in a chat with Sportstar at the team hotel here on Monday.
“After the Super Cup, we are going to do it full-fledged. We already have a structure for that. Both- for the short-term and the long-term. We have a clear road map,” he added.
Even though the 49-year-old has ISL coaching experience, having been the assistant coach of the Delhi Dynamos for the first two ISL seasons, he was a bit hesitant when CFC “suddenly” approached him this time since it was a long time ago that he last served in that capacity and also because of his other commitments - he runs two academies and built a career as a commentator cum expert analyst.
“I was doing commentary, and other things were there - academy management and all. I’d done it before, but there had been a gap. So, I felt that if I had to get into it completely, I had to get prepared for it. But I ended up saying that I’m ready on the same day itself!”
He said he’s “slowly” getting integrated into the club set-up and that the coaching staff and the players are working up a “healthy relationship” with each other.
“We coaches discuss a lot. There are a lot of interactions. There are meetings with players. Everyone is definitely concerned about or focused on one thing - giving good suggestions.”
Asked for his assessment of the team’s latest ISL campaign, he said: “They started well. There were so many expectations after that. The results weren’t as expected. But as far as I am concerned, my honest opinion is that they could have finished in a better position. If we had better players in some positions, it could’ve been different. Injuries have also been a reason.”
After the official announcement of his appointment, there was his short video interview on the club’s social media platforms. In that, he picked goalkeeper Samik Mitra, defender Aakash Sangwan, and forward Vincy Barretto as the CFC players he was most impressed by. But having come into the setup, he’s surprised to find that there are more players of remarkable talent, whose talent just doesn’t get translated into performance on the field.
“Observing from the outside, those (three) players as performers looked good to me. They also give hope since they are young. When you observe from closer inside, there are more (talented) players, but they don’t deliver and that was what surprised me. They are so good at training and all. Then they could deliver more, right? This, I was able to identify when I looked closer.”
Raving about head coach Thomas Brdaric’s work ethic and his openness to suggestions, he said that one may see a “better” CFC in the upcoming Super Cup.
Once Raman Vijayan took over as the assistant coach, the fans kept wondering: “When is Sivasakthi going to sign for Chennaiyin FC?”
ISL 2022-23’s emerging player award winner N. Sivasakthi (Bengaluru FC), blossomed under Raman Vijayan’s patronage and tutelage. The 22-year-old forward is a product of Raman’s football academies - Noble Football Academy and Raman Vijayan Soccer School (RVSS).
“In the professional world, it is completely different. Even if he’s come from my academy, he has a professional platform now. So, he’s not in that position where if I ask him to come he’ll immediately come. I have to respect that as well.
“It is to be seen if he’s comfortable and willing to come. It’s everyone’s wish. Maybe time will tell. Nothing can be said for sure. But at the same time, it may be possible, no?”
The mentor and the protege stay connected. In fact, it was Raman who put Siva’s mother on a phone call with a member of the coaching staff to assuage her concern after Siva got injured in the first minute and eventually had to be stretchered off in the ISL final on Sunday.
On Siva, he said: “When I started the Noble Football Academy, my first dream was to make someone play for India. It was my short-term goal. He’s helped me achieve that. Whatever progress I keep wanting for him, it keeps happening. That’s been a big source of happiness. It gives us the confidence that maybe we are doing the right job.
“He still has to improve in a lot of areas. As a professional, he has to handle a lot of things. You can perform, maybe, but to sustain that and take it forward is very important. He definitely needs to improve a lot. For instance, Liston Colaco was a sensation one time, and he didn’t perform as much after that. It shouldn’t be like that. There has to be consistency. That’s what we’ve always been telling.”
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