ISL 2019/20: Will Chennaiyin FC's 'gamble' on John Gregory pay off?

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John Gregory Chennaiyin FC ISL 5
John Gregory led Chennaiyin to a title win and then followed it up with a disappointing season...

The sixth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is upon us and all the clubs have strengthened their squad with top players, with a few of them opting to bring in new head coaches as well. 

Kerala Blasters signed Eelco Schattorie after he led NorthEast United to a top-four spot last season. Robert Jarni replaced the Dutchman at NorthEast. 

FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, Mumbai City and Chennaiyin have retained their head coaches but of these clubs, Chennaiyin's decision to continue with Englishman John Gregory could be termed a gamble.

Starting the 2018/19 ISL season as defending champions, Chennaiyin not only failed to defend their title but also recorded the poorest show by any team in the ISL history.

Most importantly, it never seemed like Gregory ever had a Plan B as the Marina Machans endured a highly forgettable season. Towards the end of the season, Gregory had also claimed that he was waiting for the season to conclude so that the team can focus on the AFC Cup.

But in the end, Chennaiyin couldn't turn their season around with continental success as they failed to make it out of a relatively easy group that included Minerva Punjab, Abahani Dhaka and Manang Marshyangdi.

Manang Marshyangdi Chennaiyin FC AFC Cup 2019

Chennaiyin’s only bright spot from last season came five months ago when they made the final of the AIFF Super Cup. Still the fact remains that Chennaiyin managed just two wins in 18 games during the league season which makes the task at Gregory's hands all the more tougher this season.

When former manager Marco Materazzi led Chennaiyin to a seventh-place finish in 2016, he was relieved of his duties and had parted ways with the club. Sticking with Gregory after a campaign that was worse is a risk that the management has opted to take.

This is also the first instance where an ISL club has stuck with their manager after finishing at the bottom of the standings.

NorthEast United and Ricki Herbert parted ways in the inaugural edition after finishing rock bottom. Kerala parted ways with Peter Taylor midway during their disastrous 2015 season and decided against continuing with Terry Phelan after they eventually finished last that season.

Goa finished eighth in the 2016 edition and responded by appointing Lobera in place of Zico. NorthEast United’s poor 2017/18 season saw them test out two managers in Joao de Deus and Avram Grant before signing Schattorie ahead of the 2017/18 season.

Gregory has a lot of work to do as he attempts to justify the club’s decision. Chennaiyin released a host of players such as Mailson Alves and Issac Vanmalsawma. Star player Raphael Augusto's signing for Bengaluru has strengthened Chennaiyin's rivals. 

Raphael Augusto Chennaiyin FC FC Goa ISL season 4 2017/2018

However, the club also announced promising signings such as Edwin Vanspaul, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Vishal Kaith and experienced overseas players like Lucian Goian, Andre Schembri, Nerijus Valskis and Rafael Crivellaro.

Only time will tell if these are upgrades but such an overhaul of the squad is an indication that the club management has faith in the ideas of the coach that took them to a remarkable title victory in 2018.

The Englishman must bring back the winning mentality that his title-winners had, something that was amiss in the team's failed campaign last season. 

Tactically, it will be interesting to see what the 65-year-old has in store this season. Gregory must show that he is not running out of ideas and is capable of taking his team to the summit yet again.