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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

‘ISL has elevated Indian football & driven it ahead’: Owen Coyle

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Mumbai: Owen Coyle has evolved to become one of the most recognisable faces in Indian football.

Currently at the helm of Chennaiyin FC, he first shot into fame after inspiring a remarkable turnaround, taking the Marina Machans from the bottom half of the table to the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2019-20 despite taking over the reins only midway through the campaign. An interesting turning point in that season was a 1-0 victory away against Mumbai City FC. That was February 21, 2020.

The Marina Machans will again take on Mumbai City FC on February 23, this time at home, with a hope of breaking amongst the playoffs spot from a precarious position yet again. Chennaiyin FC is particularly in an interesting position currently, and Coyle is now backing the Marina Machans to recreate his magic.

With 15 points from 14 games, they have endured a middling run so far. Fighting the bigwigs with his limited resources, Coyle is helping the club get back to a place where they can begin competing for trophies again.

“In the early years, Chennaiyin FC was really successful, with the trophies and everything else. Obviously, in the last five seasons the only time we reached the playoffs was when I and my assistants came in and took them from the bottom to the grand finale. That tells me that there’s a lot of work ahead, and we need to try to take Chennaiyin FC back to the glory days of competing for trophies,” Coyle said.

“The game moves on every year. The clubs become bigger. In my home country, there are the likes of Glasgow Rangers, in Germany, there’s Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, then FC Barcelona in Spain,” he said.

Coyle added, “What we have shown with Jamshedpur FC, without bigger star players, you can still be champions. That should give everyone in the league real belief and hope that you can do that.”

Right now, Chennaiyin FC has a host of players with high potential at their disposal, such as Farukh Choudhary, Ayush Adhikari, Ankit Mukherjee, Vincy Baretto, Ninthoinganba Meetei, and Rahim Ali, amongst others.

Coyle admitted that he has worked wonders with similar players in his previous clubs, stating the important roles that the duo of Boris Singh (now with FC Goa) and Ritwik Das played in his title triumph with Jamshedpur FC. Similarly, the tactician was one of the first ones in the country to tap upon the talent of Lallianzuala Chhangte, back when the winger scored seven goals en route Chennaiyin FC’s runners-up finish in ISL 2019-20.

“I am a coach that even during my time at Jamshedpur FC, took boys that couldn’t get a game, clubs deemed that they aren’t good enough – Boris Singh, who is a young player, went to a huge club (erstwhile ATK Mohun Bagan), but couldn’t get a game because they had good players. But these players need an opportunity. Even Ritwik Das is a national team player now and someone who is going to get better, going to excel. He couldn’t get a game at Kerala Blasters FC. I saw him do well for Real Kashmir FC and he was my type of player, I brought him there,” Coyle explained.

“Chhangte for example, when I went to Chennaiyin FC in season six, people told me he is an exciting player but he can’t score goals. But Chhangte did for me in the sixth season that he is doing now for Mumbai City FC, with the amount of goals he scored and the assists he had in the second half of the season,” he added.

“There are many such stories like that in Indian football that the ISL has helped because of the elevation that it has given, and with the clubs becoming far more professional, organised, and having a real structure, which is going to drive Indian football ahead and the ISL deserves a massive credit for that,” the tactician said, applauding the ISL ecosystem for giving rise to such stories.

Regardless of the result of the upcoming fixture, this match is set to bring about two extremely budding yet passionate fan bases against each other. The Marina Machans are blessed with dedicated supporters who continue to flock the stadium and have their back, even if the team is undergoing a challenging period on-field, something that aligns with Coyle’s worldview of what footballing fans should stand for.

“There has been a development in the fan bases. We know how passionate, colourful, and vocal they are. Of course, with each club, there is a hard core set of fans who are going to be there supporting the team whether they win, lose or draw. What we need to do is to encourage a lot more to be like that, and not to be like in a lot of countries, where they only support the winning teams. What we have to do is to have that consistent number supporting a team through thick and thin,” he explained.

Along with Sergio Lobera and Carles Cuadrat, Coyle symbolises the old guard of the ISL – coaches who have seen the competition mature in a great deal over the years. The coming eight games hold immense significance for both Chennaiyin FC and his placing and future at the club. He will be eager to put the run of indifferent form so far behind him and embark on a surge for a qualification to the playoffs.

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