Owen Coyle’s homecoming to end Chennaiyin’s meet-cute affair?


It’s been over a week since Chennaiyin FC welcomed Owen Coyle back.

It wasn’t long back that Coyle gave Jamshedpur FC a gritty identity to embrace. What he did at the Jamshedpur-based club was a perfect cosplay of how to succeed in the Indian League. In his first season, he was just four points shy of the fourth and final playoff spot.

He continued to believe in his recruitment policy but heading into the next season, his side wasn’t considered a serious contender. His recruitment was primarily based on the players who, in his words, “want to play for Jamshedpur”. An added element to its romanticism was that he assembled players who were struggling to find a starting spot in other ISL clubs. Players like Ritwik Das went on to become stars at the club and have an international cap to show now.

Owen Coyle being celebrated after the shield victory with Jamshedpur FC. He will be coaching Chennaiyin FC in 2023-24.

It should be acknowledged without mentioning that the most important man of steel in the team was Greg Stewart, who was brought in on Coyle’s recommendation. He, too, was just a bench player for Scottish giants Rangers FC. In 2021-22, Jamshedpur FC went on to win the shield with a class display of grit and efficiency.

Before he was let go to Jamshedpur, he electrocuted the entire league with a (comeback in Tamil) to remember. He took charge mid-way when Chennaiyin FC were languishing at the bottom third of the table. His first game in charge was against Kerala Blasters at home. Result? 3-1. They met again at Kochi. 6-3 victory for Chennai this time.

We all know how it ended. Even in the final loss against ATK, Chennaiyin were never out of the game. That deadly attack consisted of the front four of Rafael Crivellaro, Nerijus Valskis, Andre Schembri, and Lallianzuala Chhangte. The Quadro made it their characteristic to score goals out of nowhere. With Thapa, of course, showing brilliance of his own.

When Owen will arrive at Chennai this time, he won’t have any of them. The domestic core has also changed its look with Thapa making a big money move to Mohun Bagan. Coyle will still have some great talents at his disposal, like Jiteshwor Singh, Sajal Bag, Bikash Yumnam, Irfan Yadwad, etc. He has made the club sign Farukh Choudhary and Jordan Murray as his first foreign signings of the season.

After another wretched season full of deficient results, the club decided to sweep the board clean – starting with letting go of Thomas Brdaric and all the foreigners. It has become the identity of the club to rinse and repeat. It may often make people think that the management believes in hit-and-trial than a coherent process. A man like Coyle, who has proved himself twice in two different conditions, should have the trust of the club.

A meet-cute affair for Chennaiyin?

Last year, a movie came out on Prime where the female protagonist was too afraid to face the new day. Something from the past fascinated her and she kept repeating that day every day, for over 365 days. The movie in question is ‘Meet Cute’, starring Kaley Cuoco and Pete Davidson.

The process of Chennaiyin FC repeating the same process and stringing a new side every season seems much parallel to her. After failing to retain Coyle in 2020, they appointed Csaba Lazslo. He failed to reach the playoffs and was let go. Then came Bozidar Bandovic, who failed to reach the playoffs, and was sacked. Then came Thomas Brdaric, who failed to reach the playoffs, and was let go.

So it’s an algorithm that Chennaiyin have created for themselves. This may sound cut-throat for the coaching staff, but it’s cutting their own throats. Over the last few years, Chennaiyin as a club has continuously failed to make the most out of their domestic luxury. Now that even Thapa has left, a lot is to be built again.

Coyle at Jamshedpur FC did just that. Up until the 2019-20 season, Jamshedpur FC had an identity of a team that started well but the magic diminished with passing games. That season, they started well with three wins and a draw in five games. But since then, Antonio Iriondo’s men only deteriorated. Only a single win followed for the side that looked promising with the likes of Sergio Castel, Piti, Aitor Monroy, and an emerging Farukh Choudhary. They too had different coaches in different seasons prior to that.

Entered Coyle and the rest is history.

Given the record and range of Owen Coyle in India, Chennaiyin would have their fingers crossed that this is the man they have been praying for.

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Chetan Anand
Chetan Anand
Radars Football, Cricket and Motorsports

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