Chennaiyin FC co-owner Bachchan open to unified football league

Bachchan is open to the idea of one top national football league, with promotion and relegation, involving clubs from AIFF's I-League.

Actor and sports entrepreneur Abhishek Bachchan, Chennaiyin FC co-owner, is clear on the transfer policy: squad balance is more important than star signing.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Chennaiyin FC trusted youth, not big names last season. It wasn't mandatory to sign a marquee player in the 2017-18 season and the team's move paid rich dividends. Chennaiyin lifted the Indian Super League (ISL) crown, its second title in four years.

The follow-up act this season promises to be more of the same. Actor and sports entrepreneur Abhishek Bachchan, the club's co-owner, is clear on the transfer policy: squad balance is more important than star signing.

"In Chennaiyin we have never believed in big-name signing," says Bachchan. "We believe in balance. One person alone cannot help us win the match. It's a team effort. We don't like egos in the locker room. We want players who are going to execute what (manager) John (Gregory) wants."

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On the team's composition for the title defence, he is pleased to have retained the core from the last campaign. "We have a relatively young team and it made sense to retain them. We had four or five young players, who we thought would mature even more." 

Indian players such as Dhanpal Ganesh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Karanjit Singh and Jerry Lalrinzuala have become established household names among the supporters, and this excites Bachchan.

"Now even (Anirudh) Thapa, a youth player, who had a lot of runarounds last season [is integral]. In his first full, season he has gone onto become a regular. He has gone on to captain India (in the SAFF Cup). Jerry is turning out to be a popular figure in Chennai. Karanjit has been our Number 1 for the last three seasons," he says.

Bachchan admits defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh, who underwent knee surgery in September, will be sorely missed.   -  ISL / SPORTZPICS

 

Bachchan admits defensive midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh, who underwent knee surgery in September, will be sorely missed. "The silver lining is Germanpreet (Singh) and Thapa will get more game time, which is what they want. It is wonderful to see Isaac (Vanmalsawma) come in and take a spot in the starting XI." 

Chennaiyin will embark on its maiden AFC Cup campaign this year and Bachchan hits a practical note. "I am very excited and honoured to see Chennaiyin play in it," he says.

"We have to manage our expectations. Are we going to be able to win it? No. Let's be honest about it. It's going to be step-by-step. We would love to and there is a plan in place for that. So we are going to try and do that."

While attendance in home venues for ATK, Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United has dwindled, football and ISL seem to have found a place in the South across Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

 

While attendance in home venues for ATK, Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United has dwindled, football and ISL seem to have found a place in the South across Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi. Bachchan hailed sports fans of Tamil Nadu for their support and community work as part of fan groups.

"Tamil Nadu has the best fans. Come what may, people are going to support your team. The greatest testimony was in the opening match of the [new] season, where close to 500-600 supporters travelled all the way to Bengaluru. I am also pleased by the community work they do. I was so touched by it. When the terrible floods happened in Kerala, it was touching to see a lot of the Supermachans actually contributing and heading over to Kerala to help. That's what I love about them," he says.

Bachchan is open to the idea of one top national football league, with promotion and relegation, involving clubs from AIFF's I-League.

"I would love that. I have no problem with it. If you are a club, you believe in your players and the team you have, then it shouldn't be a problem. It should be a meritocracy. And that's the only way for football to grow in this country. 

"I do believe that it's going to happen soon and I hope it does. How great would it be to have even more teams to compete against. And obviously, to get the grand old teams of India to come and compete against us. Their fan base is going to be great for the sport," he says.