NEW DELHI: There’s a well-known theory that defending the title is a lot harder than winning the crown. That goes not only for the popular European football leagues but also for the highly-competitive I-League.
The league has never been defended since its launch in 2007. The more pertinent statistic is that in the corresponding campaign, victors have never managed a top-four finish. Now Chennai City FC has the chance to create history.
This was part of the allure that kept Pedro Manzi, last season’s golden boot winner, with the team. And he admits they will have their work cut out. “Yes, I did receive multiple offers — not only from India but also abroad. But defending the crown, doing something never done before was was irresistible. But we have a new team this term and it will be hard,” the Spaniard said.
The defensive mainstays of the team — Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Gaurav Bora and Michael Regin have all departed for ISL along with the influential Nestor Gordillo. The defensive departures, in particular, have led to disappointing results in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Chittagong where they lost all matches after conceding avoidable goals.
One of the finds of last season, Ajith Kumar, said that coach Akbar Nawas has spoken about rectifying these. “He said it is better to concede now than during the season. The coach does not mind failures as long as you learn from those. We as a group are highly motivated to cut these mistakes out and I’m sure by the time the season starts, we will be fine.”
One thing that the club have focussed on is their fitness. They even had a yo-yo test during pre-season and it was at the advanced level with the passing mark kept at 21, compared to the cricket team’s 17.
“Even last season, we had done the same but the level was intermediate. Fitness is obviously crucial as the league is long and we need to keep the stamina high throughout the 90 minutes,” Ajith added.
Even though rival sides might have figured out ways to counter the champions, Manzi says the coach has no plans to change the philosophy. “We won the title because of our passing game. All the players know what to do so there is no point changing it.”
The Spanish star was constantly joking and pulling the young Tamilian’s leg and it was evidence enough of a friendly atmosphere, something Manzi said would be key this term. And the striker has no plans to jump ship any time soon.
“We are all like one big family and it is not only just that the Spanish recruits only hang around with their mates. We all go out and it obviously helps build chemistry. I have a three-year contract with the club and until the club decides to sell me, I want to be here.”