After success in Thailand, Chennaiyin FC coach Bozidar Bandovic eyes glory in Hero ISL

Photo credit: Chennaiyin FC

Two-time Hero Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC have roped in experienced head coach Bozidar Bandovic ahead of the 2021-22 season. Bandovic has worked in Asia for almost seven years, and is also one of the most successful coaches that the Thai top division has ever seen.

The Montenegrin will be looking to add a third league trophy to the Chennaiyin FC cabinet, having made winning a regular habit in his time at Buriram United in Thailand.

Bandovic was a defender in his playing days, and represented several top European clubs like Red Star Belgrade, Olympiacos, PAOK until his retirement at the age of 33. His managerial career began in 2005 when he took up the role of assistant manager at Greek second division side Akratitos FC.

He was associated with Olympiacos FC in the latter half of the 2000s, taking up the assistant manager’s role in 2008, followed by the caretaker manager’s role in 2009 before taking over as manager in 2010.

After his time at Olympiacos, he had consecutive year-long spells with AO Kerkyra and AE Larisa in Greece and FC Baku in Azerbaijan. The Montenegrin explored new shores in 2014, as he joined Thai League giants Buriram United. He had a brief stint with the club in his first season in Asia, later joining Police Tero FC in November 2014 and Sisaket FC in January 2016.

He moved back to Buriram United in the capacity of Technical Director in the 2016-17 season. As technical director, he oversaw the reign of ex-Pune City FC manager Ranko Popovic at Buriram, as the club lost out on a fourth consecutive league title to Muangthong United in 2016.

After Popovic's departure from the club, Bandovic occupied the managerial role, and led a phenomenal title charge, as the ‘Thunder Castles’ broke the points record, clinching 86 points in the season.

Buriram’s dominance continued in the following season, as they broke their own record, picking up 87 points and securing a comfortable second consecutive league title. He also led them in the AFC Champions League in 2018 and was pivotal in their qualification into the knockout rounds.

A less satisfactory 2019 season followed where his team narrowly missed out on a hat-trick of titles to Chiangrai United due to an inferior goal difference. He continued with the club in the 2020-21 season, but his team struggled to perform, and he resigned from his role eight games into the campaign.

At Buriram he often used a three-man backline with two wing-backs who provided the width, and it is probable that the coach will stick to a similar setup at Chennaiyin. His style of play at Buriram could be tagged as pragmatic, as he relied on defensive stability to win games.

“If you play offensively and you lose the game, you win nothing. Most important thing is to help improve the players. Results are important, of course. I like to control the game and create chances to score. But let me tell you something, in most of the leagues in the world every team that wins the league concedes fewer goals,” he remarked on Football United, while explaining the mentality he prefers his teams to adopt.

He also prefers promoting youngsters, as his Buriram side was renowned for providing opportunities for its academy talent to break into the senior team. This mentality of ‘Why buy the player, when you can build the player?’ could be crucial for the development of players like Balaji Ganesan and Ninthoinganba Meetei, who are a part of the Marina Machans’ senior squad this season.

He has led teams that have broken the points record in the 2017 and 2018 Thai League season, while also being the team that conceded the least goals in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.

When asked about the pressure he might be facing to overturn the fortunes of the club from last season, he said, “I don’t have any problems with pressure. I have been working so many years, I was twice assistant coach, twice head coach. If you believe in yourself, you know what you are doing [pressure can be dealt with]… Of course, sometimes there is pressure but this is our work. If I can’t handle pressure, then I’ll have to change my job.”

With a talented squad and a brilliant strategist at the helm of affairs, the Marina Machans shall be a fierce opposition to come up against in the 2021-22 Hero ISL season.

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