ENTERING THE I-LEAGUE VIA THE CORPORATE ROUTE, Chennai City FC found themselves finishing at a decent eight position in their first season.
The entry story
The only team from the Tamil Nadu state in India's top division, Chennai City FC, were earlier known as Netaji Sports Club when they were founded in 1976. The team has been participating in Chennai's top district league, the Chennai Senior division. When AIFF asked for new clubs to send their applications for the I-League, Chennai City FC also bid in the hope to compete at the highest level in India. In December, the announcement came that confirmed Chennai City FC will play the I-League.
How the team fared
Bagging 17 points in first season, finishing two spots above the dreaded relegation spot and qualifying for the Federation Cup, Chennai City FC's season can be best described as satisfying given the squad depth. In the 18 matches of the I-League, CCFC won four matches notably were the wins against Aizawl FC and East Bengal FC. The Federation campaign was not ideal as they went down losing two games and winning one again Churchill Brothers SC.
Efforts to reach out
From the onset, Chennai City wanted to represent and bring up the sport in the state of Tamil Nadu. Rohit Ramesh, the owner stressed on having majority local players in the squad and said the club was committed to the upbringing of talent in the districts through local leagues and grassroots development. Tiruchirappalli-born Dharmaraj Ravanan was appointed as the captain of the team and the starry club anthem was unveiled to connect with maximum fans.
Part of the initiative to appeal to more and more fans was to set the stadium entry fees at nominal rates. The efforts of the club did not bear much fruit as the turn out for the home games was less than ideal in the start of the season. The numbers in attendance started ascending as Chennai City started pocketing points in the second half of season.
It was no easy work for Chennai City when it came to get things up and running in the I-League. They faced a lot of troubles with their home stadium and even after paying a huge sum of money for the ground maintenance, the condition of the ground was very bad. The officials of Chennai City FC had a tough time to get the facilities set up for their first home game.
If the problem of the home stadium was fixed, another problem that CCFC were faced with was making their quickly-assembled side to get results in their favour. After the opening draw, CCFC lost to Bengaluru FC, DSK Shivajians and Mohun Bagan before scoring a surprise win against Aizawl FC at home. The results did not satisfy the club management and then coach Robin Raja was let go after 7 games in-charge and V. Soundararajan as their new coach for the remainder of the season.
Another worry for the club appeared when Afghan player Haroon Amiri has stirred up a controversy. It had actually started when Soundararajan stated that the striker had refused to play after he was left out from the starting line up in the game against Benglauru FC. But Amiri denied the charge and said the coach was lying. Not too long after that incident, Amiri was released by the club.
Federation Cup campaign
Chennai City FC made it to the Federation Cup by finishing eight in the I-League and they did it with a game remaining in the league. They were pitted in Group A against Aizawl FC, East Bengal FC and Churchill Brothers SC. Chennai City lost their first games and were out of contention before playing the last fixture. The team did salvage pride as they won the game against Churchill Brothers emphatically in a 3-1 victory.
Chennai City did decent in their first season at the highest level of domestic league. Their potential was highlighted when they managed to hold off Mohun Bagan for a very long time and even got wins against Aizawl FC and East Bengal FC. The team's weakness was in the endurance of being able to carry on the strong performances through an entire game. Often the team would fizzle out towards the last quarter of the game even after putting a good show in the first hour.
The local and young Indian players did sparkle in many games. There were some great performances by Prashant and Edwin in the tournament and towards the end Nandhakumar was turning into a mature player. Also the difficulty for Chennai was pertaining to the foreign players as they were not able to replace Amiri. Chennai could have had many more goals had they converted chances created. We saw how the game against Aizawl FC in the Federation Cup was lost after running off to 2-0 lead. Chennai needed a couple of good finishers and a couple of ball-holding midfielders in order to protect the early goals scored by the team. One player that starred for Chennai was Karanjit in goal. The team conceded far less goals owing to his brilliant efforts below the bar.
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