John Gregory enjoys an Indian summer after Chennaiyin win ISL title

John Gregory led his side to a shock victory over Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League final. (ISL)
Updated 20 March 2018
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John Gregory enjoys an Indian summer after Chennaiyin win ISL title

BANGALORE: The two headers with which Mailson, a journeyman Brazilian center-back, transformed the 2018 Indian Super League (ISL) final, would have done the late, great John Charles proud — deftly and powerfully glanced into the corner of the net.
John Charles Gregory, the Chennaiyin FC coach, is only 63 and too young to recall his namesake’s glory years with Leeds United and Juventus, but there was undoubtedly a touch of the British about the manner in which his side subdued table-topping Bengaluru FC on their home turf.
In front of 25,753 fans, Chennaiyin went a goal behind in the eighth minute — scored by Sunil Chhetri, the finest Indian footballer of his generation — but the manner in which they regrouped and then proceeded to boss a game they won 3-2 brought back memories of Gregory’s best years as a manager.
He had learned from one of the best as a midfielder with Queens Park Rangers. In 1982, when still in the old second division, QPR — managed by Terry Venables, who as national team manager would give English football its most memorable summer since 1966 — reached the FA Cup final, losing to Tottenham Hotspur in a replay. The next season, with Gregory as one of the lynchpins, QPR won promotion. In their first season back in the top flight, they finished fifth and won as many games (22) as a legendary Liverpool side that won a treble of league, League Cup and European Cup.
Gregory’s first big break as a manager came in 1998, when he was given the Aston Villa job. At a club where he had spent two successful years as a player, Gregory and his team hit the ground running, winning eight games in a 12-game unbeaten start to the season. The ISL season lasted four months from kick-off to final whistle. Had that been the case in England, Gregory would have become the first English manager to win a Premier League title.
Heading into the New Year in 1999, Villa sat on top of the table with 39 points from 20 games. But as winter took hold, and the paucity of their resources began to tell, they slipped down the table, finishing with 55 points in sixth place. The next season, Gregory took them to the FA Cup final — but a David James blooper, capitalized on by Chelsea’s Roberto di Matteo, meant that there would be only heartache.
Gregory’s career trajectory has been all downhill since, taking in ill-fated stints at Derby County and QPR, two of his former clubs, and spells in Israel and Kazakhstan. His last job in England was with Crawley Town in League One, and while contemporaries like Sam Allardyce have bounced from job to job, Gregory is largely a forgotten man.
They will not forget him in Chennai though. Appointed in 2017 to succeed Marco Materazzi, his team was built around experienced but little-known foreign players and promising Indian talent. Their composure was the key in the final, as was the game plan Gregory conceived. In the regular season, when Bengaluru won 13 of their 18 games, Chennaiyin had won on their rival’s turf largely by disrupting the passing game favored by Albert Roca, the coach who was once Frank Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona.
In the final, Roca opted for a 3-5-2, with Eric Paartalu, the physically imposing Estonian-Australian, withdrawn into a center-back role. When Dimas Delgado, the Spaniard who had pulled the midfield strings all season, went off injured just seconds before Chennaiyin took the lead, any semblance of control disappeared.
Bengaluru had lots of the ball in the second half, but it was Chennaiyin, with Gregory constantly shouting instructions from the sideline, who were far more effective with it. That authority culminated in a wonderful third goal, curled in beautifully by Raphael Agusto, once a youth prospect with Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro.
Bengaluru did not take the defeat well. The stands were largely empty within minutes, and Roca was moved to say: “Everybody knows we finished first, eight points above Chennaiyin. The players did an incredible job. I am sad for them and the fans. But that’s football.”
Gurpreet Sandhu, his goalkeeper, went a step further. “We are the champions because we won the league stage,” he said petulantly.
Gregory, who once trudged up the old steps at Wembley to collect a loser’s medal, was having none of it. “I was honestly disappointed to hear these words,” he said. “We won the cup is what I know.”
They certainly did. And while it does not make up for those long-ago disappointments with Villa, it is something for the mantelpiece.


Saudi Arabia call up uncapped striker in bid to increase World Cup firepower

Updated 1 min 14 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia call up uncapped striker in bid to increase World Cup firepower

DUBAI: Al Qadisiyah’s 20-year-old striker Haroun Kamara has been given an opportunity to stake an unlikely claim for a World Cup spot after being surprisingly named in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s squad for a three-week training camp in Spain.
Kamara, who was born in Jeddah to Guinean parents, has only made seven league appearances for lowly Al-Qadisiyah, scoring four goals and claiming two assists, but he has been given the chance to shine in friendlies against Algeria on May 9 and Greece six days later and book a seat on the plane to Russia.
The youngster follows in the footsteps of the likes of Somalian-British Mukhtar Ali and Egyptian Ahmed Al-Fiqi as the Saudi Football Federation look to harness the pool of players born in the Kingdom to expats and increase the depth of the Green Falcons’ squad.
Pizzi has turned to Kamara as he has struggled to find options in attack. Hazza Al-Hazza and Mujahid Al-Mania, who were both given their debuts over the past six months, failed to convince upfront, while Mohannad Assiri has one goal for his country in more than seven years. Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, who has 26 goals in 33 internationals, is favorite to lead the line but Pizzi needs more options in attack.
In goal, Yasir Al-Mosaileem, Mohammed Al-Owais and Fawaz Al-Qarni retain their place in the squad, while Al-Nassr’s Waleed Abdullah, who featured in the last squad, made way for Al-Hilal’s Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Only three goalkeepers will be selected for the final 23-man squad.
In defense, Ali Al-Bulayhi is in line for a debut, having established himself as a key player at the heart of Al-Hilal defense, while Mohammed Al-Burayk’s performances at right-back for the Blues earned him a recall to the squad for the first time under Pizzi, replacing Al-Shabab’s Hassan Muath.
The three Hawsawis, Osama, Omar and Motaz, retain their places as do full-backs Yasir Al-Shahrani, Mansour Al-Harbi and Saeed Al-Muwallad.
The backline is edging closer to taking shape as Mohammed Jahfali, who was first brought into the squad in March’s friendlies against Ukraine and Belgium, looks to have done enough to convince Pizzi to hand him a second opportunity.
There were no real surprises in midfield as the team is boosted by the recovery of two high-profile names. Nawaf Al-Abed makes his long-awaited return to the national team set-up, having suffered an injury in November’s ill-fated Portugal camp under departed coach Edgardo Bauza. Al-Abed’s Al-Hilal teammate, Salman Al-Faraj, is also back in the squad after recovering from a three-month injury lay-off.
Spain-based trio Fahad Al-Muwallad, Yahya Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari miss out due to club commitments, with Mohammed Kanno, Hattan Bahebri and Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi taking their places.

Saudi Arabia squad for games against Algeria (May 9) and Greece (May 15)

Goalkeepers: Yasir Al-Mosaileem, Mohammed Al-Owais, Fawaz Al-Qarni, Abdullah Al-Mayouf.
Defenders: Osama Hawsawi, Motaz Hawsawi, Omar Hawsawi, Mohammed Jahfal, Ali Al-Bulayhi, Mohammed Al-Burayk, Saeed Al-Muwallad, Yasir Al-Shahrani, Mansour Al-Harbi.
Midfielders: Abdulmalik Al-Khaibari, Abdllah Al-Khaibari, Ibrahim Ghaleb, Abdullah Otayf, Taisir Al-Jassim, Hussein Al-Moqahwi, Salman Al-Faraj, Nawaf Al-Abed, Mohammad Kanno, Mohammed Al-Kuwaikbi, Hattan Bahebri.
Forwards: Mohammed Al-Sahlawi, Mohannad Assiri, Haroun Kamara