ISL Diary: Chennaiyin's transformation under Coyle, Jarni's brief NorthEast stint

Owen Coyle who was brought in as John Gregory’s replacement and was charged with steadying the Chennaiyin FC ship has turned the club’s fortunes around.

A sparsely populated Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai has slowly seen an increase in footfall with every home game..   -  Anirudh Velamuri

“Missed a chance to take all three points! Should’ve been won by us, we were good. That playoff spot is ours to lose.”

Those are the words of a Chennaiyin FC fan following the team’s goalless draw against defending champion Bengaluru FC.

A few months ago, this would’ve been unthinkable as Chennaiyin was in the midst of its worst-ever season. Following its title-winning season, the team had a torrid time in its last campaign and picked up some unwanted records: the fewest points (9), fewest wins (2) and most defeats (13) in a season.

For both fans and players alike, the mood at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium has been miserable. Until now.

Owen Coyle was brought in as John Gregory’s replacement and was charged with steadying the ship. But 10 games on, he has turned the club’s fortunes around.

A sparsely populated stadium has slowly seen an increase in footfall with every home game. While the league’s official attendance statistics have felt a little skewed in recent times, against Bengaluru in its last home game of the season the stadium did feel — and sound — like it had more than 10,000 people in it.

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“When the team plays well, the fans come to the stadium and they are eager to buy (replica shirts and scarfs) to show their support. It has been a while since I have seen this mood around here,” says a young guy selling club-branded merchandise before the game.

Stewards, tasked with maintaining discipline in the stands, also enjoy going about their duties when there are fans to ‘control’.

“They (players) score there and then fans will come (to the stadium) in numbers. Fans chanting and supporting the team, the (Viking) claps at the end, these are all fun to see,” says one steward.

“It has been a while since we saw something like this. Finally the joy has returned.”

Indeed it has. Win its two remaining games and the stadium can gear up to host one last game this season — a playoff match that could lead to a record third title.

“This isn’t the last game of the season,” said club captain Lucian Goian after the game against Bengaluru. “There could be one more, you never know.”

Premature end to Jarni’s journey

Eight managers in six seasons — NorthEast United FC is setting a record of a different kind. This is about the propensity to sack the head coach every time the team falters in its task to reach the play-offs.

Beginning with the New Zealander Ricki Herbert in the first season in 2014, the Highlanders have never opted for continuity, chopping and changing the side and the coaching staff without much success. This meant well-publicised arrivals of coaches commanding admirable credentials from all across the globe at the beginning of every season followed by their quiet departure before the end of the season as the team’s performance hit a low. Thus Cesar Farias, Nelo Vingada, Joao Pires de Deus and Avram Grant got their names on the list of failed generals as NorthEast United FC met its Waterloo by the completion of the League.

Robert Jarni, the head coach of NorthEast United FC, has failed to inspire the Highlanders to bring up that little extra that would give them the edge over the opponents.   -  ISL / Sportzpics

 

The latest victim in this sequence is Robert Jarni, the Croatian who was a part of its national squad that won third place in the 1998 World Cup. Having played with sides like Juventus and Real Madrid in a well decorated club career, Jarni failed to inspire the Highlanders to bring up that little extra that would give them the edge over the opponents. The team scored the least number of goals (13 in 16 outings) among all the sides in the ISL, while suffering a winless run of 11 matches. As Jarni’s journey with the Highlanders come to an end, it will be interesting to see who will be his replacement in the next season. Owen Coyle who was brought in as John Gregory’s replacement and was charged with steadying the Chennaiyin FC ship has turned the club’s fortunes around.