Edwin Vanspaul’s performances in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 did not go unnoticed with the Chennaiyin FC midfielder becoming a crucial part of the team that went on a dream run to the final. Having found it difficult initially, the versatile midfielder with his strong performances etched his name in the hearts of the Chennaiyin fans by the end of the season.

His team’s memorable run to the final, though, had a disappointing end as Chennaiyin lost to eventual champions ATK FC 3-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa. “It was a special moment playing the final in my first year at the club. I was very excited to be a part of this team. Playing without fans was a new experience as well,” Vanspaul told host Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of Let’s Football Live on Sunday.

He continued, “We were ready and gave our best but unfortunately it was not our day. It was very sad especially because we did so well in the league. We had a good run. We knew that after this we had a long holiday but we weren’t really happy because we lost the match. It was a big lesson and I learned a lot. Hopefully we will do better next season.”

Vanspaul credits foreign stars and Owen Coyle for turnaround

Despite the loss in the final, there’s no doubting that the Marina Machans would have a lot of takeaways from the season as a whole. At the start of the campaign, Chennaiyin found it difficult to find the back of the net never mind picking up wins. However, Vanspaul revealed that the two-time Hero ISL champions’ international stars played a big role in the revival of their fortunes.

“It was a tough time for everyone at the club. We were training hard but unfortunately we weren’t getting the results we wanted. However, all the foreign players did not lose hope. They used to push the Indian players and had their confidence on us. They asked each and every player to give their 100% during training and they were pushing us harder day-by-day,” Vanspaul recalled.

“(Lucian) Goian used to kill me every time during the training sessions. He used to push me hard, shout at me. But he is a very nice guy who wants the team to do better. Even though we were losing, he used to say, we are losing and that’s okay, but we have to lose in a good manner,” he added while singling out the inspirational figure of Lucian Goian for praise.

Another massive factor behind Chennaiyin having a turnaround in fortunes midway through the season was the appointment of Owen Coyle as their head coach. Vanspaul benefitted with Coyle choosing to move the Indian midfielder back to his preferred role at the center of the park and the 27-year-old admitted how the Englishman’s belief and trust helped his performances.

“Owen’s arrival was a huge boost. He trusted and believed in us and he helped us finish the league in a good manner. He stuck it into our heads that we can do it. He really changed the atmosphere in the dressing room. From day one, he used to keep inspiring us. Even though we lost one game in the middle against Odisha, he never gave up on us. He only made me play as a midfielder after a very long time and because of his belief I played so well,” Vanspaul opined.

Thapa, Germanpreet and Dhanpal help ease transition to midfield for Vanspaul

The Chennaiyin midfielder also reminisced about how his teammates helped him adjust to his role in the team and made the transition more comfortable for him. “After I started playing for professional clubs, I used to take advice from the other players who used to play in that position. Before playing as a midfielder with Chennaiyin, I had a word with Germanpreet (Singh) and (Anirudh) Thapa. I used to learn from them while seeing them playing in that position. I just wanted to play my part for the team. It’s all about learning in football,” he said.

While expanding on his teammates, Vanspaul shared that Anirudh Thapa is someone who has guided him a lot. “Anirudh Thapa is so young but he is very mature. I have never met a more humble player during my career. He used to guide me and help me during the matches. Even though I used to make mistakes he asked me to carry on. He supported me a lot, especially during the games. Initially it was very tough for me to adapt in that position, but he is the one who helped me work as a midfielder,” he said.

Another Chennaiyin player who Vanspaul shares a great relationship with both on and off the pitch is midfielder Dhanpal Ganesh. “We have been friends since the seventh grade. We had a great friendship. It was nice to play with him, it felt like a reunion. We were in contact but playing with him was a different experience,” Vanspaul added.