After a disappointing 2020-21 season, Chennaiyin is looking to rebuild under new head coach Bozidar Bandovic who has made the move to India after 7 seasons in Thailand. The Marina Machans finished 8th last season under Csaba Laszlo, producing some fluttering moments of brilliance in a season filled with disappointment. The team struggled on both ends of the field, failing to score goals and conceding more than they scored. Chennaiyin finished last season with a goal difference of -6. They have acknowledged their frailties at the back and have looked to strengthen defensively. In Bandovic they have got themselves a manager who believes in tactical discipline and a watertight defence and he has shown trust in his countryman Slavko Damjanovic to spearhead his plans at Chennaiyin. The Montenegrin defender has made the move from the Serbian SuperLiga side Backa Topola to the Marina Arena for his debut ISL season.
Bandovic comes to Chennaiyin with a huge reputation most of which was built during his stint with Buriram United in Thailand. The former assistant manager at Olympiacos, Bandovic and his Buriram United were the talk of Thai football over the last 4 seasons. He took over Buriram from FC Baku for the latter part of the 2014 season, taking the side from 12th in the table to third. He was still relieved of his duties and even though the Montenegrin stayed in Thailand managing BEC Tero and Sisaket, he didn’t taste much success. Until he was back at Buriram in 2017 replacing Ranko Popovic and since then he has led the club to back to back league titles followed by two runners-up finishes. The secret of his success at Buriram, a well-drilled tactical side that refused to let in goals. In his 4 seasons managing Buriram, the side had conceded a combined total of 98 goals in 136 league games.
Bandovic will be looking to bring to Chennaiyin some of that disciplined defending and Slavko Damjanovic will play a big role in his plans. The defender has had a journeyman career playing for 9 clubs in 10 seasons and Chennaiyin will be his first adventure in Asia. Damjanovic has been all over the place. After starting his career in Montenegro with FK Mornar Bar in the top division, the left-footed defender moved to Serbia. After two seasons in Serbia with Spartak Subotica and Backa Subotica, he was next found in Hungary playing for Bekescsaba. Next season, he moved back to Montenegro to Sutjeska Niksic before moving to South Africa to sign for the now-dissolved side Bidvest Wits. Damjanovic was back in Montenegro after his African adventure to sign for Buducnost Podgorica. He next moved to Tashkent in Uzbekistan to play for Lokomotiv Tashkent and then onto Serbia again, joining Backa Topola.
Damjanovic will operate as a left footed Centre back and as a left back if needed. While Bandovic likes a solid defence, he also looks to play out from the back and to do that you need a defender who isn’t shy on the ball and can move it forward. Damjanovic fits the bill perfectly. He is very secure with the ball and can pick a pass. The Montenegrian doesn’t believe in taking any prisoners while defending and you need a hard tackling defender if you are looking to play out from the back because more often than not you will lose the ball and you need a strong defender who isn’t afraid to make that last ditch tackle. Damjanovic sheldom is. Tactical discipline is something that Bandovic banks on and he will need the players to be on board with his plans if Chennaiyin is to put up a better show this season and Damjanovic’s extensive playing experience under different managers will help him adapt to his countryman’s plan sooner rather than later. With Sipovic making the short move to Kochi from Chennai and the Marina Machans yet to make the call on Eli Sabia, the signing of Damjanovic gives Chennaiyin the defensive cover they so desire. While the Sabia and Sipovic partnership didn’t get the ideal results last season, with Damjanovic in the heart of the defence, Chennaiyin has a versatile left footed ball playing defender who is definitely an upgrade from both their defensive generals of previous season.
The Montenegrin centre back has made 151 apperances throughout his career. Given his journeyman reputation, he has turned up 56 times for Montenegrian side Buducnost Podgorica, the most for a club in his career. He has also been on the scoresheet for them thrice. He has also extensively played for Sutjeska Niksic in the Montenegrin First League, representing them on 30 occasions. He has lifted the Montenegrin Cup with them during the 2016/17 season and has also had success with Bidvest Wits in South Africa the following season, winning the league cup with them. Slavko tasted league success with Buducnost Podgorica when he won the Montenegrin First League with them in the 2019/20 season. Damjanovic has played most of his football in Montenegro, playing 81 times in the first division, last season though he was in Serbia with Backa Topola, playing for them 11 times, scoring a goal and picking up 4 yellow cards in 990 minutes. His discipline might be a concern for Bandovic but the player is fit enough to play full 90 minutes, which will assure the Chennaiyin coach.
In Slavko Damjanovic, Chennaiyin has got themselves a player who is an asset at both ends of the pitch. While he is an astute defender who can read the game, tackle and is a natural with the ball at this feet, he is also a threat in the attacking third. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches tall, the Montenegrin loves to get himself at the end of set pieces and for Bandovic who relies heavily on set pieces to breach the oppositions defence, having Damjanovic will be an ace up his sleeve. Will both the Montenegrins revive Chennaiyin’s fortune this season is something that will only be answered when the new season rolls in, till then the Marina Machans have plenty to excited about.
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