CHENNAI CITY FC ARE at the focal point of Indian football right now, facing not only the prospect of battling tough opponents in AFC Cup as the sole representative of Indian football, but also the challenge to assemble a team and travel abroad before anyone else at the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CCFC's remaining AFC Cup group stage matches, which got postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, have been rescheduled to take place between 23rd October and 4th November at a central venue in Maldives.
Speaking to TFG, Chennai City's principal owner Rohit Ramesh Rangarajan said that the virus was as big a challenge for his club as the opponents,
"Logistically it will be tough to assemble the squad soon to train initially in Chennai. We don’t know when the borders also will open for us to fly out to Maldives."
Back in March, the I-League 2018-19 champions went to great lengths to ensure that they get to play their AFC Cup home matches in Chennai's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Now, the pandemic is making the club consider whether it is safe at all to even practice in Chennai,
"The number of COVID cases in Chennai and Tamil Nadu are very determining. With social distancing on the charts as well, we don’t know when we can start training soon."
Preparations for the tournament are going to be even tougher, considering the club will not be in-season. In 2019, CCFC started their preparations early, participating in the Durand Cup as well as the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh in the build-up towards their I-League and AFC campaigns. As of now, the club has not played any competitive matches since March, and it's unlikely they'll get any of those in the lead-up to the resumption of AFC Cup.
Asked whether the club is in talks with other clubs for potential friendly matches ahead of their AFC campaign in Maldives, Mr Rangarajan said,
"Nope. I don’t think others also have a team in place."
Adding to the challenges, the club is facing uncertainties regarding its team; as it's unclear whether it will be possible to have their foreign players flown in. The CCFC management has adopted a wait and watch policy so they can factor in the travel restrictions into their signing decisions,
"We will wait till the last minute before making those moves. Right now even our head coach Akbar Nawas is in Singapore. It will be a monumental task to get him here as well."
Football worldwide is neck-deep in uncertainties due to the pandemic. And while the I-League and ISL clubs are being spared some of the logistical crisis thanks to their league campaigns not starting before November, Chennai City have found themselves at the eye of the storm. The administration of the club now faces the prospect of going against massive odds to assemble a team, knowing that even if that part goes well their matches may still be further postponed if the outbreak worsens in the host city of Male, Maldives.