They have won two out of the four editions of Indian Super League but reigning champions Chennaiyin FC’s coach John Gregory wants his team to become first among equals to win back to back titles.
The former Aston Villa player and manager feels that consistency is one area of emphasis for him.
“We will have to make everyone aware of what has happened in the past. Players have to be notified about that and I am wary of that. When we won ISL 2 and in the following season, our performance was unspectacular,” Gregory told PTI in an interaction.
Gregory said he was aware of the fact that there is a record of reigning champions performing poorly in the subsequent seasons, pointing to ATK’s struggles in 2017-’18.
“Last season can only be used as a reference and we won’t discuss it very often. It is irrelevant to us and our names are already on the record books. We also have the trophy to prove it. We have got to do it all over again. That’s what champions do,” the Englishman, who led Chennaiyin FC to a second ISL triumph earlier in March, said.
“How do you improve a champion outfit? You are expected to do the same this year if not better. We want to retain the trophy which no team has done before. It is not going to be easy (though),” he added with a note of caution.
He stressed the importance of being strong defensively and said: “good attacks win matches but good defensive teams wins tournaments.”
“We spend a lot of work on that side of our game. Attackers win you matches but defenders win you championships. We had eight clean sheets last year, which was good but can be bettered.
“We have managed to keep hold of Mailson (Alves) and Caldi (Inigo Calderon), who were huge players for us last year. Jerry (Lalrinzuala) had a great season too he improved even on the previous season. But he has got one or two people challenging him for his place. He has got to get better this year,” Gregory said.
On new signing Andrea Orlandi, he said the Italy-born Spaniard is a good talent and can play in any of the six attacking positions.
“Orlandi is a real good talent and can play in any of the six attacking positions. He has not won much as he should have won. He is a fantastic talent and I think he will flourish playing in our team,” the CFC coach said.
About appointing a captain in the absence of Henrique Sereno, who is yet to a sign a deal and played a huge part in the triumph in ISL-4, Gregory said he was not fretting over that decision.
“Appointing the captain is not a huge decision to make. It’s not really a worry for me. We will just get on with it. Mailson played like a captain and so did Calderon. Those two were immense in various aspects of the defensive side of our game. They played like captains every match, like leaders,” he added.
He recalled that the present England football team manager Gareth Southgate was his captain for many years and was very vocal on the pitch and led by example on the field.
He (Southgate) dictated things on the pitch and wanted the best out of everyone, Gregory added.
In this regard, he referred to an incident during one of the games last season when Mailson’s pep talk during the break motivated the team.
“Coming in at half-time, I was just about to speak. Mailson stood up and he shouted in Portuguese for about six minutes. Even though we didn’t understand what he was saying, we all knew what he was trying to point out. We had a completely different team in the second half,” he added.
About the two remaining foreign players who remained to be signed by the club, Gregory said a decision would be taken in the coming days and talks were on in this regard.
“Out of the seven foreigners we are allowed, we have already got five. So we need to come up with the next two. We are talking to 4-5 players and hope to do it in the next 10 days,” he added.
Players like Dhanapal Ganesh and Jeje Lalpekhlua, who scored nine goals during the victorious campaign, could get even better, Gregory, who won the AIFF Manager of the Year award, signed off.
The Chennaiyin FC team is set to leave for a pre-season camp in Malaysia tomorrow.