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.


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: getting them to the 2022 World Cup.
The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Abu Dhabi. While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990.
“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.
“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 


Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017 after contractual negotiations broke down. That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, not least with Saudi Arabia, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead.
“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said.
While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom it is his time as the Netherland coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010.
So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race?
“One of the reasons is the feeling — I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said.
“We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.
“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (whom he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”
Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be a difficult one. The fabled “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years work will likely depend on a new generation.
“I heard there were some young talents so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said.
“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”