Tamil Nadu football legends welcome new I-League club

Former Indian football stars from Tamil Nadu, Raman Vijayan and Syed Sabir Pasha, said Chennai City FC’s entry into the I-League will be a big boost for upcoming footballers from the state.

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“In the past, only players from Kolkata or Goa used to be recognised and it was difficult for others. Now the young players have clubs from within the state. Already, Chennaiyin FC has made a big impact in bringing together the fans. Now both the clubs can play a key role in bringing up players from the state. It is a big task for Chennai City now to conduct the club in a good way and sustain this momentum because entire Tamil Nadu will be watching them,” said former Indian national team striker Raman Vijayan.

Syed Sabir Pasha, who is currently the assistant coach of ISL club Chennaiyin FC, and who, like Vijayan, came into the limelight through his performances for Indian Bank, the last team from Tamil Nadu to play in the National Football League, echoed the same views.

“More the clubs, more the opportunities for the players from the state,” he said. “This is exactly what happened when Indian Bank had a team in top division. It gave local players a good opportunity. Hopefully Chennai City FC can do the same.

Bengaluru FC (BFC), a corporate funded team founded in 2013, has become the benchmark when it comes to professionalism in football in the country after winning two I-League titles, and Vijayan, wants Chennai City FC to replicate something similar in Chennai.

“The team needs to be result oriented but at the same time build the club with a strong foundation, like BFC. Chennai fans are already there but you need to attract them to your matches through performances. It is important to have a strong core team who can survive for another 10-15 years. Like how BFC came up with this entire club structure, Chennai City should also have a long-term vision and bring professionalism into the game,” said Vijayan.

“A professional set-up is very important because now the players have already experienced that in the ISL. So clubs should ensure that players maintain that high standards when it comes to training, diet etc,” added Vijayan, who is the assistant manager for ISL club Delhi Dynamos.

Vijayan also said that finding the right balance of youth and experience will be the key for Chennai City FC’s success in the long run.

“It is important to have the right balance in the team — some local talent and some foreign players. The club should have a proper scouting program and ensure that it matches up to the big clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. The balance will come automatically in one or two years if you have a proper youth set-up with a pool of players.”

Sabir Pasha, who also heads Chennaiyin FC’s grassroots programs in the state, stressed that on-field success should be the priority for the I-League’s new entrant.

“It’s not going to be easy to go into a big league where all the teams are established. Their first priority should be on making the team competitive. Once they get into the I-League, they will have to field teams in Under-15, U-19 and all the other youth leagues. It is about establishing in the top level. Everything else will follow,” said Pasha.

Pasha believes that promising footballers are scattered across Tamil Nadu but the presence of CFA football league, Chennai City FC ( in the I-League) and Chennaiyin FC ( in ISL) will bring them to the capital city. With team owner Rohit Ramesh confirming that Chennai City FC will continue to play in tournaments within the state, the city now has a set-up where the youngsters can first sharpen their skills in the CFA, before moving to top leagues such as I-League and ISL.

Vijayan, the only other Indian apart from Baichung Bhutia to be the top scorer in National Football League (1997-98 season with FC Kochin), said such a structure, would play a key role in bringing local talent into the limelight.

“When Chennaiyin FC started, there were no players from the state and it faced a lot of criticism for it. But if we don’t have I-League clubs, from where will they find quality players? Now there is a big platform for players from the region and I’m sure you will start seeing more local talent play in the ISL,” he said.

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