It has been an Indian Super League (ISL) season to write-off for Chennaiyin FC with the defending champions languishing at the bottom of the table but for coach John Gregory, there is still plenty to play for as the business end approaches.
Speaking ahead of his side’s clash against Kerala Blasters, Gregory said, “After we played NorthEast in our first match in 2019, we are mathematically unable to make the playoffs. We have kind of set our focus more on the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Cup and the Super Cup.”
“Last week we played with four foreigners against the team at the top of the table and managed to beat them. We had three Europeans and one Asian last week in the line-up. I think everybody is motivated, we want to take nine points in the next three matches and finish in a position where we will be happier.
“Tomorrow we have a chance to catch up on points with Kerala. All my foreign players will want to be involved in the AFC Cup, I can only play three of them. Chris Herd is Asian so he will be in the squad. We will just continue to work as hard as we can. Players are also playing for contracts, at Chennaiyin or somewhere else.”
Two of the players who will be playing for their contracts are CK Vineeth and Halicharan Narzary who joined Chennaiyin from Kerala on loan till the remainder of the season. Gregory revealed that the duo has been enjoying their football once again after a difficult season with the Blasters.
“Things were a bit difficult for them at Kerala. CK wasn't playing very often. They have both settled in very quickly, CK scored in his first home game. I think they are just happy to go and play football. They were a bit unhappy here with the way things were going,” explained the Englishman.
The Chennaiyin coach has been able to oversee only two wins for his side in 15 games so far and admitted that his future could have been much more uncertain if the ISL had a relegation and promotion system.
“If there was relegation, I don't think I would be here now, to be fair. If relegation ever comes to the ISL, it will change the owners' views I am sure on wanting to stay in the top division. You see what happens all across Europe. Many teams change their coaches, their backroom staff, playing style year after year to stay in the Premier League,” he said.
“The owners need to protect their investment. If that ever was to come here, I am sure you would see that, certainly with coaches and staff in wanting to change them regularly,” Gregory added.
Kerala’s own dismal season has seen attendances reduce drastically at Kochi and Gregory admitted that he would love things to remain the same in that regard on Saturday.
“From my point of view, I will be happy if the stadium is empty coming here. I don't think he (David James) lost a lot of matches, you were threatening to get into the playoffs. Your support here, this is my first experience in Kerala. The support you had in your stadium last year, I was gobsmacked. Trust, me I would love to have that support at home. It would never be a disadvantage,” Gregory explained.
“It is one of my biggest mysteries, why Kerala have never won the ISL. You have everything going for you. It is a big surprise, that you are in the fifth season and still haven't won the ISL. You have the ingredients.”
For the clash against Kerala, Gregory will have the services of his star defender Mailson Alves.
“We have Mailson back available. He missed three matches. (Zohmingliana) Ralte got a bad injury last week. He will be back in the team. Other than that, everyone else in great shape. All fit, happy and confident after last week's win against Bengaluru. We are unbeaten against Kerala since I have been here, I hope that will continue,” the Chennaiyin coach concluded.