Lot of expectations

The Chennaiyin FC team members pose for the lensmen in Italy.-CHENNAIYIN FC

With a pre-season under their belt and an impressive looking squad on paper, Chennaiyin FC find themselves saddled with the favourites’ tag, writes N. Sudarshan.

Being meticulous and in possession of an astute footballing mind were once necessary traits in an Italian. Marco Materazzi, when he was a player, was identified as being one. Now in his second year as Chennaiyin FC manager, he is slowly building up his managerial profile in a similar way.

Stung by an acute shortage of time last year, which in-turn hampered his team’s preparations, an almost month-long pre-season camp was organised in Perugia, Italy, this time.

Then, even as he retained the attacking edge given by the South American trio of Elano, John Stiven Mendoza and Bruno Pelissari, which scored 16 of the 27 goals for the team in 2014, the likes of Fikru Teferra from title-winning Atletico de Kolkata have been added.

Preseason training in full swing in Perugia, Italy.-CHENNAIYIN FC

By also holding on to defender Bernard Mendy and midfielder Harmanjot Khabra the Italian has ensured that the core remains the same; a trait the club perhaps share with the city’s Indian Premier League franchise, the Chennai Super Kings. Goalkeeping was an area of concern and hence Apoula Edel, also from Atletico, who probably made the save of the tournament in the final last year, was swiftly poached.

Bengaluru FC’s tough-tackling midfielder Thoi Singh could prove an important addition if Materazzi chooses to use a shield in front of his defence. It’s a role he himself performed last year but with age, a repeat performance looks unlikely.

At the start of last year’s edition, the club were not deemed good enough to reach the business end. Yet, they topped the league stage and eventually finished semifinalists. A year on, with a pre-season under their belt and an impressive looking squad on paper, they find themselves saddled with the favourites’ tag. Managing that weight of expectation in the sophomore year will be their biggest challenge.

* * * MARCO MATERAZZI ON PRE-SEASON CAMP

The importance of pre-season lies in ensuring that nothing is left to chance when competitive action begins. From formations to team shapes, from corner routines to penalty kicks, from recovery processes to training regimens, everything is discussed threadbare. When not presented with adequate time for all these, even the best of managers feel short-changed. Here Chenniayin FC manager Marco Materazzi speaks to Sportstar about his team’s stint in Italy, something that circumstances denied him last season.

On the pre-season

One of the reasons why we went to Perugia, Italy, was because of the nice climate. I felt players would risk muscular injuries by training in humid conditions. There were good facilities also and the quality of opposition was better. Working on the prevention of injuries has been an important aspect. Last year we suffered too many injuries and eventually missed out on a place in the final. Hopefully this pre-season will help us keep the squad fit for most of the season. The overall quality in the team is better than last year so if we can keep everybody fit we can have a successful season.

On the progress of Indian players

Technically and physically I think all my Indian players are at a very good level. But tactically they have room for improvement. We have been working on that and they will be ready by the time we play our first game.

On the pre-season matches

I learnt a lot more about my players. I tried out almost everybody. We are now looking forward.

N. SUDARSHAN * * *

DELIGHTED TO BE PICKED UP BY CHENNAIYIN FC — THOI SINGH

Marco Materazzi (left), manager of the Chennaiyin FC, with new signings, Thoi Singh (centre) and Karanjit Singh.-VIVEK BENDRE

It has been more than two months since the ISL auction. I still remember the night before when I didn’t know which team I would play for. There was both excitement and nervousness. For me, in fact for all the players, the final price was irrelevant. We just wanted to know which team would pick us. I was delighted to be picked up by one of the best franchises from the first season, Chennaiyin FC.

Last year I had a pre-season tour with Bengaluru FC in China. That was a good experience but the pre-season in Italy has been incredible. The facilities both in terms of training and off the pitch were top-class. I am thankful to Chennaiyin FC for giving us, especially the Indian players, the best possible preparation. In the first week, the emphasis was mainly on getting our fitness levels up. That is something I relish a lot. Gradually we moved to the more technical and tactical aspects. The games, irrespective of the results, have helped us improve our understanding on the pitch.

The usual routine was double sessions for five days in the week and the weekends off.

It was an absolute pleasure training under Marco Materazzi. We players are still getting to know each other, both on and off the field.

But overall the pre-season has been very fruitful.

Many of us Indian players were getting these top facilities and quality opposition to face in pre-season for the very first time. It has definitely been an experience of a lifetime.

* * * THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Apoula Edel, Nidhin Lal and Karanjit Singh.

Defenders:Mailson Alves, Abhishek Das, Eder, Lalhmangaihsanga, Bernard Mendy, Alessandro Potenza,Dhanachandra Singh, Justin Stephen and Mehrajuddin Wadoo.

Midfielders: Raphael Augusto, Manuele Blasi, Elano, Godwin Franco, Dhanpal Ganesh, Harmanjot Khabra, Zakeer Mundampara, Bruno Pelissari and Thoi Singh.

Strikers: Fikru, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Stiven Mendoza, Jayesh Rane and Balwant Singh.