ISL diary: The talker exits the stage

The latest from the ISL season: John Gregory parts ways with Chennaiyin FC after two-and-a-half seasons in charge, and Hyderabad’s loud support.

In the press conference halls, John Gregory’s dry wit and amiable personality made for interesting media briefings, but his long-drawn-out answers made for an arduous transcribing process.   -  K. Murali Kumar

John Gregory’s wish to be relieved of his duties was finally obliged on November 30 after Chennaiyin FC released a statement at 5 am that it had mutually parted ways with the English coach. Before the international break, a “hurting” Gregory had stated that he wasn’t the right man to pull the team out of its malaise, but had returned to continue in the role for a couple of more matches.

The delayed end to his tenure now appears to be a case of the club not finding the right replacement during the break. Gregory stated that his agenda was to get six points from the two home games against Hyderabad FC and Odisha FC while refusing to give a clear picture on whether he will stay on till the end of the season. “Football always surprises you,” he said before the game against Hyderabad. “We’re not thinking that far ahead now and just on the next game.”

And there were indeed some surprises. Chennaiyin scored the first goal and recorded its first win in more than seven months in the Indian Super League in a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Hyderabad. This was followed by another entertaining 2-2 draw against Odisha before the curtains came down on Gregory’s two-and-a-half year period at the club.

Undoubtedly, his best moment at the club came in the first season when he led the side to its second ISL title with a win over Bengaluru FC in the final. This was then followed by a torrid season when the club finished last among the 10 teams while recording the lowest points total in the competition’s history.

During the end of the horror run last season, Gregory stated that he probably should have left after the high of the title-winning campaign. Instead, he twice penned extensions, including one in May this year in the hope of righting the wrongs, which didn’t go according to plan.

Despite the tame end to Gregory’s time in India, he will still be remembered fondly by the Chennaiyin supporters, who would often stay back to see off the team bus after home games, and Gregory would go over to greet them even during the toughest of phases.

In the press conference halls, his dry wit and amiable personality made for interesting media briefings, but his long-drawn-out answers made for an arduous transcribing process. This was best summed up during last season’s Super Cup in Bhubaneswar, when then-ATK boss Steve Coppell was kept waiting for his turn by another one of Gregory’s lengthy press conferences. When it was Coppell’s turn at the dais, he joked, “Boy, he (Gregory) is a talker, isn’t he?”

Hyderabad FC star Marcelinho, literally, urged the crowd to roar when he was about to take a free kick that turned out to be an incredible effort to help the team win the match against Kerala Blasters.   -  ISL / Sportzpics

 

Gregory — formerly manager during the late 1990s of Aston Villa, one of the founding members of England’s Football League and Premier League — was often left frustrated with what he called “red tape” in Indian football and the rigours of travelling around the country.

Even in his last press conference, he brought attention to the tightly packed schedule in the ISL and how his team was at the receiving end by having to play two games in three days on three separate occasions over the course of the season.

Referring to himself as an “honorary Chennai boy,” Gregory — left behind in the end by his peers — has carved out a small legacy for himself in the new age of Indian football.

Vociferous support for Hyderabad FC

For Hyderabad FC, making its debut this ISL season, there was no dearth of lung power in the form of diehard fans cheering them on from the stands at the G. M. C. Balayogi Athletic Stadium, its home venue.

In a city that was once the cradle of Indian football, what with five Hyderabadis making it to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and famed coach S. A. Rahim attaining iconic status in Indian football as national coach, it was a pleasant surprise to see the vociferous crowds throng the stadium.

The colourful attire, tattoos of the teams and beating of drums clearly enhance the ambience in the stadium.

So, it was not surprising to see Hyderabad FC star Marcelinho urge, literally, the crowd to roar when he was about to take a free kick that turned out to be an incredible effort to help the team win the match against Kerala Blasters.

There was an aberration too for the Hyderabad franchisee when the bus driver was allegedly roughed up by the police for continuous honking. It is said he was beaten up by a cop in front of the entire team and dragged, the team’s official Twitter handle said that night.