Not rusty at all, this crusty veteran!

Italian World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta, now all of 40 years of age, hasn’t played for a year, but wowed the Chennai crowd and his Chennaiyin FC team-mates in a splendid, 45-minute first half appearance.

Alessandro Nesta might have played for only 45 minutes for Chennaiyin FC in his first ISL match, (against Delhi Dynamos). This was also the team’s last league match in Chennai, and the impact he made was there for all to see. Shouting instructions to his Indian mates in the defence and midfield and effecting timely tackles, the 40-year-old Italian, a World Cup winner, showed why he is considered one of the best defenders in the world! When reporters asked Chennaiyin’s player-manager Marco Materazzi as to why Nesta wasn’t used for the entire duration of the match, he said “Nesta hasn’t played for a year. So, I thought he was perfect for 45 minutes (first half).” The Indian players were all praise for Nesta’s advice during and after the match. Speaking to Sportstar, Harmanjot Khabra said Nesta was an immense source of guidance to the team. “He told us not to go after every ball and told us the importance of preserving energy and also the importance of positioning.”

Enigmatic

During the opening rounds of the season, one of the most asked questions by the media to Delhi Dynamos manager Harm van Veldhoven centred on Gustavo dos Santos. “Why doesn’t he start?” “Why wasn’t he introduced earlier?”

The Brazilian’s individual qualities were there for everyone to see. The 20-year-old could dribble past players at will, had pace and could shoot powerfully. But dos Santos could be selfish as well. His tendency to trust only his ability frustrated his manager and team-mates and good situations were wasted.

Yet, dos Santos found his way into the side. As Dynamos struggled, van Veldhoven was forced to introduce a system that made the best use of his quicker players. Dos Santos’ entry into the side was responsible for his team’s resurgence too. When the Brazilian won the match for Dynamos in Pune with a late strike, it was his fifth goal of the season. Not to forget, there had been two assists too.

There are moments when he can still be selfish. But it’s an aspect of his game that is undergoing a change with time. Moreover, the number of times he gets into dangerous positions ensures that opposition defenders can’t afford even the slightest lapse in concentration.

Dos Santos’ form also prevented Alessandro Del Piero from regaining his starting berth. But the Italian had only kind words for the Brazilian. “He’s showed a lot of quality. He’s a good mix of technicality and skills, and he’s only 20 years old, so he’ll still learn a lot. It’s the best place for him to start off and learn more.”

Injuries, yellow cards and hard luck

What could be the possible reasons for Chennaiyin FC’s first loss at home (against FC Goa)? Could it be due to complacency as the team had already qualified for the semifinals? Or was it because of the injuries to key players? Or anything else?

“That (complacency) is not the only one,” replied Vivek Nagul, Chennaiyin’s assistant coach at the post-match media conference. Not the one to sugar-coat his answers, Nagul said “as we had a lot of injuries to key players we had to rotate players. There were issues of yellow cards and suspensions. It was a bit of hard luck, too.”

Chennaiyin decided to try out some new faces in the XI, but that didn’t yield the desired results. Young Indian player Jayesh Rane made his first start in the playing XI as a striker, but couldn’t make an impression. Christian Hidalgo and Andres Suarez also found themselves in the starting XI. It was clear that Chennaiyin wanted to try out new permutations and combinations. Nagul defended Jayesh saying, “We wanted to test Rane and he did well. He will learn.”

On Gouramangi Singh missing his fourth consecutive match due to a groin injury, Nagul said “he’s good enough but not good enough for a match.”

Tinseltown invades Salt Lake

Atletico de Kolkata’s journey in the Indian Super League has hardly followed the script of a movie. But the movie makers in the city seem to attach a lot of importance to the international star cast that the team offers with the likes of Luis Garcia, Borja Fernandes, and coach Antonio Habas. All these names have previous associations with top European clubs and this is the clinching factor.

As the team practised hard at the Salt Lake Stadium, looking to move up, the players were greeted by a bevy of beauties from the tinsel town. The reel heroes were also present making it a heady mix for the Indian players who knew the local film stars. The visitors sought association with the ATK’s brand image in connection with the release of a Bengali film ‘Lorai’ (meaning battle) based on football. Actor and producer Prosenjit Chatterjee, who is the biggest heart-throb of Bengali movie buffs, was also there.

It was not long before the team’s Ethiopian striker Fikru Lemessa forsook his drills to join the charming visitors on the sideline. The Ethiopian footballer, sporting a trendy mohawk hairdo, started showing his juggling skills with the football, much to the merriment of the guests. One of the franchise owners also joined the star-cast as Prosenjit also showed his talent with the ball. Garcia maintained a distance, visibly not amused by the distraction to the practice session.

K. Keerthivasan, Priyansh and Amitabha Das Sharma