Industrious midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh has sustained a severe knee injury during the team’s pre-season camp which is set up keep him out of the first half of the upcoming season.
The 24-year-old was a vital clog in Chennaiyain’s march to their second ISL title last season and made 17 appearances over the course of the campaign. He was part of a strong Indian midfield ensemble at Chennai which also included Bikramjit Singh and Anirudh Thapa who went on to make 15 and 16 appearances for the title-winning club respectively.
A willing runner not shy of putting in the tackle, Ganesh’s performance in midfield summed up Chennaiyin’s successful campaign under English coach John Gregory with his displays being greater than the sum of his parts.
Perfectly embodying Chennaiyin’s mantra of outplaying their opponents through sheer collective desire and commitment from the players, Ganesh’s contributions were not just limited to cleaning up in midfield. The Chennai-born man also chipped in with two important goals with the first of them coming as an 88th-minute winner at the home of eventual runners-up Bengaluru FC while the second came in his side’s 3-0 victory over FC Goa in the second leg of the playoffs.
With Bikramjit Singh having departed for the Delhi Dynamos, Ganesh’s absence for a large chunk of the season will no doubt will be felt big time for the club in their quest to become the first side to successfully defend the ISL crown.
His quick closing down of spaces in midfield was a huge factor in Chennaiyin’s ability to thwart the opposition and the club’s remaining midfielders will need to step up to ensure that it is not a big miss.
While his injury will dampen spirits in the Chennaiyin camp, it also provides an opportunity for a couple of other players in the squad to step up to the challenge.
One of them will definitely be Anirudh Thapa after his coming off age campaign last season while the other will be Germanpreet Singh.
Thapa was a calm and assured presence in midfield for Chennaiyin last season though most of his appearances came as a substitute. He displayed many of the same qualities in a matured display for India in the recently concluded SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship in Bangladesh, except for the final. Maybe because he cannot sustain his intensity for entire 90 minutes.
The 20-year-old’s development has undergone a steep curve of late and he looks poised to play an even more prominent role for Gregory in the upcoming season. The Uttarakhand-born player’s passing abilities have never been in doubt but he will be hoping to add a little more bite to his game to compensate for Ganesh’s loss.
But Ganesh's height will be a huge miss in set-piece situations and defending long balls, something Thapa and Germanpreet will truggle to emulate.
For Germanpreet, Ganesh’s injury might actually be a blessing in disguise. He was handed seven fleeting appearances last season with game time being hard to come by in the competitive Chennaiyin midfield.
The Tata Football Academy (TFA) graduate has the legs to make up for Ganesh’s industry and has all the tools to become a Gregory favourite. The closest like-to-like replacement for Ganesh, the 22-year-old will be viewing the upcoming season as a chance to make his mark in the ISL and will be itching to increase his game time on the pitch.
The third option that they do have is Sinivasan Pandiyan who is inexperienced at this level. However, he is tall and could be a good cover for Ganesh.
Starting the season without the services of their midfield general from last season is not an ideal situation for the defending champions but in Thapa and Germanpreet they do have two players who will be looking at the Ganesh setback as an opportunity to increase their own star.