Saighani: Will do everything required to bring Chennaiyin back to the top

Chennaiyin FC's title defence last season went horribly wrong as the two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champions finished at the bottom of the table after struggling throughout the 2018-19 campaign. The southern side is busy at work trying to rebuild and bounce back in the 2019-20 season and a major focus seems to be on the defence. After roping in the talismanic Lucian Goian from Mumbai City FC, Chennaiyin, on Monday, made another strong addition to their backline, confirming the signing of Afghan defender Masih Saighani.

Chennaiyin fans will hope the 32-year-old, whose name translates to ‘Messiah’ in his native language, can help the team return to their accustomed perch in the coming season - a thought the Afghanistan international seems to share with the collective fanbase. In an interview with the official Chennaiyin website, he said, "I want to help make the defensive side more stable. It will be important to put in the hard yards in pre-season and be ready. Lucian (Goian) has also come on board, with Eli (Sabia) too signing a new contract. These are experienced players with strong technical ability. Together with the whole team, we will do everything required to bring Chennaiyin back to the top. One bad season cannot put down the good work and success of the club before that."

"I am very happy to have joined the club. I hear a lot about the fans, see a lot of support even on social media. A team is always as strong as its supporters, and Chennaiyin is extremely strong in that regard. They can be certain that I along with the rest of the team will put our best foot forward in the new season," he added.

Return to India

Having played for Hero I-League side Aizawl FC in the 2017-18 season, Saighani is no stranger to India and also has a good idea of the Chennaiyin side, having played against them thrice - once for Aizawl in Hero Super Cup 2018 and twice for Bangladeshi outfit Abahani Dhaka in the AFC Asian Cup 2019. "I have faced Chennaiyin in the past, with both Abahani and Aizawl, and I must say I have always been impressed by the team spirit and organization. Chennaiyin have deservingly been crowned Hero ISL champions twice, with an ardent fanbase that supports unconditionally. I can’t wait to get started!" he stated with excitement.

The central defender, however, noted that playing in the Hero ISL will be a tough challenge and opined, "I feel the quality of football in the Hero ISL is higher and more competitive. It is a completely different platform."

Praise for Gregory

He also heaped praise on Chennaiyin head coach John Gregory and revealed how the Englishman had a huge role to play behind his move. "John (Gregory) is a very charismatic yet humble coach. When he first contacted me about the club being interested in signing me, I was immediately on board. My decision was fast and very clear from the start."

The German flavour

Asked about his own playing style and how he expects to fit into the team, the towering defender remarked, "First and foremost, I am a defensive player in my own view. My strengths are my height and ability to build-up play. I’m not like many defensive players who just tackle. I like to create and I’m comfortable on the ball. I am a loud presence; I like to be vocal and aggressive on the pitch. I am a fighter and you will find me constantly motivating the team on and off the pitch."

Saighani's ball-playing abilities, something Gregory too has praised in the past, can become a big positive for Chennaiyin next season. Despite being born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saighani's formative years were spent in Germany and expect the defender to add some 'classic' German flavour to Chennaiyin's backline. “I was born in Kabul in Afghanistan, but due to the turmoil in my homeland, my family decided to move to Germany. I was only two at the time. I have three older brothers and a younger sister. I began playing football with my brothers as early as when I was five or six, as my family moved across refugee camps. We finally settled down in Frankfurt, and I began playing professional football at a club called VfB Marburg in the German lower divisions. I began as a left offensive winger and forward, but eventually, the coach moved me into a more defensive role. I thus adapted and evolved, with experience," Saighani concluded, reminiscing his journey into the beautiful game.

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