“Think local. Act global” - was the adage that rang true in the Indian football circles on Thursday when Chennai City, champions of I-League, shocked the Indian Super League (ISL) champions Bengaluru FC to progress to the semifinals of the ongoing Super Cup.
Forget the fact that Chennai City were playing with just four foreigners against a side which had some of the best-paid foreign players in India like Miku, Dimas Delgado, Juanan and the likes. Bengaluru FC boasted some of the creme de la creme of Indian players in Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
But they came a cropper against a side which had sold some of its best players from last season and had relied on a host of local players. They had acquitted themselves well in the I-League but not many expected them to outgun an ISL side, that too the champions Bengaluru FC who have been a consistent team for the last two years.
The standout fact from this matchup was the number of local players that featured for both sides. Bengaluru FC had no player in the matchday squad from Karnataka while Chennai City had as many as five Tamil Nadu players in the first XI. And these players went toe-to-toe with the top Indian players of Bengaluru and emerged victorious at the end.
Edwin Vanspaul and Ajith Kamaraj were just brilliant, nullifying the threat of Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri on the wings and crippling Bengaluru FC.
It has to be noted that some of the key local names who were instrumental throughout the I-League campaign like Alexander Romario Jesuraj, Charles Lourdusamy, Pravitto Raju and Vijay Ponnurangam were not part of the Chennai City first XI in this game.
Not only was that a surprising factor, but also a heartening one. While Bengaluru FC have failed to produce one proper talent from Karnataka, here was Chennai City, hailing from a neighbouring state which also is not known for its passion for football, handing out chances to aspiring players from their region. And thereby, widening the national pool.
Don’t forget the fact that Chennai City brought out the likes of Michael Soosairaj and Sinivasan Pandiyan.
Owner Rohit Ramesh deserves a lot of credit in this regard. He has always been an advocate of bringing through local players, even during the initial days of the club in the I-League. In fact, one of the reasons behind former coach Robin Charles Raja, under whom Chennai City first played I-League, losing his job was the fact that he did not give many opportunities to local players.
Every team in the Indian Super League (ISL) is supposed to be named after the city or the state from which it operates out of. The idea being to create an identity which fans can relate to. While this was a good start for a nascent league, it’s about time for the league to ask the franchises to help promote talent from the state or the cities they are based out of.
Else what’s the point of running the club from a particular region when none of the 18 members of the matchday squad belong to the local region? The clubs may point that the state of affairs in the state isn’t the best but if an ISL or an I-League team cannot pick a player in their 18 from the local state, you have got to question the vision of the owner, club’s youth development coaches and even the head coach.
You may claim that the club is developing talent for India but the fact is that these clubs have to be made responsible to do something for the local players. And it isn’t that these local players are bad or not up to the standard. The point is what are the coaches doing if they cannot accommodate or include one player from the state. The question should be: Is football in your state so bad that you cannot pick one player in the senior team? And if it’s so bad, what have you done or what have your coaches done to improve the same?
Chennai City have proven that it is quite possible to promote local players and enjoy success, given you have a solid blueprint. Yes, Chennai City had a brilliant group of Spaniards on their books but it is worth noting that the Indian players adapted well to their foreign counterparts and their playing style.
Chennai City are one of the most pleasing attacking outfits in the country and the credit goes to their overseas players as well as the brilliant supporting cast, made up of talented local players. Most of these local players were picked the Chennai Football Association league, not even the state league.
They thought locally and acted globally (at least nationally)!