Thomas Brdaric at Chennaiyin FC: A game of patience and consistency

Chennaiyin FC are one of the few teams in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) who have reached the league’s pinnacle and have been able to scale new heights in various seasons.

The two-time Hero ISL champions are one of only three teams to have reached the finals thrice, having been on the losing side just once. Be it under Marco Materazzi or John Gregory, the Marina Machans have tasted eternal glory and always looked like an ambitious club that resonated with success.

Having made it to the playoffs four times out of eight seasons and winning the title in two of those is an exemplary achievement for any club. In the 2019-20 Hero ISL season, under Owen Coyle, the team yet again showed their prowess of being a club capable of accomplishing silverware, albeit falling short of it by a whisker.

Ever since the departure of Owen Coyle, the Marina Machans haven’t been able to find their footing and have struggled to replicate their winning DNA from the past seasons.

In the 2020-21 Hero ISL campaign, under Romanian-Hungarian head coach Csabo Laszlo, the side had a disappointing season, finishing eighth in the league standings with 20 points. Laszlo couldn’t implement his level of playing style as effectively, and the team drew the joint-most number of games alongside Hyderabad FC.

The following season, under the guidance of head coach Bozidar Bandovic, the results were identical, and so was the team’s position in the league standings. Bandovic’s playing style didn’t receive many plaudits from the Marina Machans’ supporters. His side’s compact gameplay failed to make an impact in the league, as Chennaiyin FC scored the least number of goals (17).

However, with new head coach Thomas Brdaric at the helm, the team’s intent and hunger has brought renewed hope to the club and the fans. With a total revamp of the team, new foreign signings, and potent youngsters, Brdaric is slowly but surely getting to implement his brand of football despite the setbacks, knocks, and losses his team has received this season.

Chennaiyin FC are currently seventh in the league standings with 15 points in 12 games, comprising four wins, three draws, and five losses. Brdaric has shown glimpses of what his team can do while also mentioning the issues and mistakes the team has been making.

His team’s performances on the pitch are a testament to the style of football Brdaric wants to play. Be it their 7-3 victory over NorthEast United FC or even their 2-1 loss against Mumbai City FC, there’s a certainty in his brand of football that will take time to infuse and develop among his players.

“I think that Thomas Brdaric has absolutely galvanised Chennaiyin this season. They are more attacking (side) right now than they were under Bandovic. I think he's finally found the best system and formation of play, where he's tried lots of formations throughout the season. I think you'll see real developments in the younger players at the club as well,” says Hero ISL expert Paul Masefield.

Being his debut Hero ISL season, Brdaric is already close to matching the numbers put up in the previous two seasons. His side has secured four wins, one more than the 2020-21 campaign and one less than the 2021-22 campaign. Further, two of Chennaiyin FC’s players, Petar Sliskovic and Abdenasser El Khayati, feature in the top goalscorers of the season list, with seven goals each.

“I think he's a very shrewd and intelligent coach. I think he needs to be given time. I think this may be just a season too early for them to be able to push and go all the way, but they’ll be knocking on the door and have a chance of getting into the top six,” Masefield adds.

“But clubs have to learn to be patient. And I think if you're patient with Brdaric, I think that you'll reap the rewards in the future. There's absolutely no reason why he can't emulate and do what Manolo Marquez has done, what Des Buckingham has done in the league. I think Thomas Brdaric could be the next one to do that,” he continues.

Marina Machan’s performances this season have been marred with inconsistency, but that makes a case for Brdaric to go beyond this obstacle and strike the right chord that can make their way into the playoffs. While it may seem challenging, the German has a unique squad that can turn the tide around and bring him success.

“Chennaiyin FC’s inconsistency must be infuriating for Thomas Brdaric. He will look at their current situation and still believe they can make the top six. He deserves time to make it happen. They don’t have to face Mumbai City FC again, and the key could be the remaining four fixtures: ATK Mohun Bagan, Odisha FC, East Bengal FC, and NorthEast United FC, all winnable from his perspective,” says Hero ISL commentator John Helm.

The 47-year-old’s attitude of being a go-getter has been comprehensively received by fans and pundits alike. From his touchline antics to his gameplan tweaks, Brdaric has modulated several changes that can reap dividends for his team this season. Still, his side has been shipping goals at the back, which can cancel out the efforts made in the attacking department.

“You can see by his touchline animation how much Thomas Brdaric really wants to win. He loves his players. Chennaiyin FC, don't forget, do score goals. They've been scoreless in only one match, but he needs to get his defenders onto the same wavelength. Just one clean sheet all season. Not good enough,” adds Helm.

Their upcoming games against Hyderabad FC, ATK Mohun Bagan, and Bengaluru FC will prove to be a litmus test for Brdaric and his men to strengthen their stride in the top six race.

However difficult the road might be, Brdaric has taken this Chennaiyin FC side a mile further, and the fans will be hoping that he can push them into the playoffs and maybe another Hero ISL final.

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