We want to be first ones to retain ISL title, says Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory

In the four editions of the Indian Super League, no team has managed to defend its title so far and Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory is keen to change that stat this time around.

Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory is eager to become the first coach to defend the Indian Super League title.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Chennaiyin FC manager John Gregory said he expected opposition teams to come harder at the defending champions this year, but maintained that his team will not change its style of play for the upcoming Indian Super League season.

"I don't think we will be that different. We have got three foreigners as defenders. I went on record last year saying 'Attackers win games, but defenders win you championships'. You look at all the great teams in the world, they are great defensive teams. We just want to do whatever it takes to win it. I don't think we have got a particular style of play," the Englishman said.

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Explaining the team's functioning, he said: "When you play FC Goa, there are many passes; Bengaluru FC plays a very Spanish, possession-based game and when you play in Kerala (Kerala Blasters), you have to play against the crowd as well.

"We are a hardworking team. You won't get any easy game. We are going to make it as difficult as we possibly can. When you play (against) us, you have to play your very best because we will be at our very best. I think we have tried to drill that into our players. You need to be mentally and physically tough. You know we will continue playing into the 95th minute, regardless of what the score is. We will just keep going."

Talking about how the team has shaped up, he said: "We have lost our captain (Henrique Sereno is not part of the squad this year) and there are one or two other personnel changes in coaches or players. I have already seen during our pre-season training that there is this incredible atmosphere among players. They have the will, hunger and desire to perform and that bodes well for us."

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'Current format is great'

The 2018-19 ISL season will have three international breaks for the first time, with a long break from December to January to accommodate the Indian team's AFC Asian Cup campaign.

Gregory was all for the breaks. "Some of our players wouldn't have come back if not for the break. Last year, they came in September and went back home in March. They were literally here for six months and were locked up in hotel. A lot of the guys have young children, it was tough for them. This season is much more sensible. It's a better format. It's the kind of format we are used to in Europe," he said.  

"It's great for the players to take time off and go home and come back refreshed for the second half of the season. The games are not so close together. In the first season, a potential finalist would have played 17 games in 8 weeks! I think the format now is great," he continued. 

Breaking the hoodoo

In the four editions of the ISL, no team has managed to defend its title so far and Gregory is keen to change that stat this time around.

"There were a lot of things and lots of stats we came across last year and we broke the hoodoo. We were told we had never beaten NEUFC in Chennai, we had never won a final in Bengaluru and we did that last year. Last year, we changed the course, we achieved things we have never done before. This year, we know that no one has ever come back as defending champions and won the League. We are very conscious of the fact and we want to be the first one to do it," he said.