Chennai City FC dedicated their I-League trophy to Jordi Villa, the former assistant coach, who did not make it to the bench even for a single competitive match in this season. But the groundwork for the 2018-19 campaign ahead was done by the Spaniard before he left for New York City FC.
Villa convinced the likes of Pedro Manzi, Nestor Gordillo and Sandro Rodriguez to come to India and try their luck. These players were hungry to get the taste of top-flight football and Villa made the most of the opportunity.
Manzi was plying his trade for CE L’Hospitalet, a third-tier club in Spain. While, Gordillo and Rodriguez were playing for Tercera Division (Third Division) outfits UE Cornella and UD Ibarra respectively before joining the I-League champions on a free transfer.
"I have played in various second and third division clubs in Spain. But we wanted to play top division football. So when I got the opportunity to come to India and play for a club which is in the top division, I gladly accepted the offer," Manzi told Goal earlier in the season.
Chennai scored 48 goals in I-League this season and 40 of them was scored by their Spanish contingent.
In Villa, Chennai found a gem of a scout who knew Spanish football just like the back of his palm. And credit must be given to him for finding the right players who would excel In Indian conditions.
Over 120 overseas players are playing in the two top leagues of India and only a handful can match the quality of Manzi. The Indian Super League (ISL) clubs are known to scourge the entire planet to find the best players but hardly do we find a club which has been able to bring together a cast which has the ability to beat any team In India.
Chennai City played with four foreigners and an all-Indian backline against a full strength Bengaluru FC but the Orange Brigade never looked the second best side on the pitch during the course of 90 minutes.
We must also highlight the contribution of Roberto Eslava and Nauset Santana who were integral in Chennai's success in I-League and was also scouted by Villa. Eslava was an assuring figure at the back who marshalled the defence like a general. He was also comfortable with the ball as he was an important cog in Chennai's style of playing out from the back. In his absence, the defence has suffered and it once again came to the forefront when Sunil Chhetri was left completely unmarked during the set-piece which led to Bengaluru's only goal.
Whereas Santana showed his heroics in numerous matches in I-League and one of his best performances came against Mohun Bagan away from home. The likes of Sony Norde, Aser Dipanda and Henry Kisekka were left frustrated as they repeatedly failed to beat the keeper and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
The team management made a smart move by signing Mauro Boerchio from NEROCA after Santana got injured and the Italian justified his selection with a man of the match performance against Bengaluru. He not only saved a penalty from Sunil Chhetri but was also brilliant to deny the 34-year-old in open play as he got down on the nick of time to prevent a header from going in.
A number of ISL outfits are already putting in big money offers for Manzi and Co. for the next season. But do Chennai City need to worry? Not until they have a someone like Jordi Villa in their knowledge.