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.


Susie Wolff backs Saudi Arabia's Formula E debut to inspire women throughout the Kingdom

Updated 14 December 2018
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Susie Wolff backs Saudi Arabia's Formula E debut to inspire women throughout the Kingdom

  • History-maker backs Ad-Diriyah weekend to inspire more women to get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia.
  • F1 legend Massa set to make his Formula E debut for Wolff's Venturi team.

LONDON: Susie Wolff knows all about making history in a male-dominated world.
The intrepid Scot became the first female driver in 22 years to take part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix meeting when she drove in a practice session ahead of the 2014 British GP.
As a test and development driver at the Williams F1 team, Wolff repeated the feat at that year’s race in Germany — and in the following season in Spain and Silverstone.
Now, Wolff is treading new ground again after becoming the first female team principal in Formula E, the all-electric car series.
It is apt, then, that Wolff’s debut as boss of the Monaco-based Venturi team will be at this weekend’s history-making inaugural Saudi Arabian E-Prix.
The race, which takes place in the Ad-Diriyah district of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and which also features the debut of the Gen2 car, comes just six months after the lifting of the ban on Saudi women driving.
Wolff said this was a hugely “progressive and positive move,” which will boost “equal opportunities for future generations of girls and women” in the Kingdom.
Now the wife of the boss of the all-conquering Mercedes Formula One team, Toto, Wolff hopes this month’s race will encourage a new generation of female drivers to get behind the wheel.
“Can Saudi Arabia produce a top woman racing driver? The first thing to know is that these things don’t happen overnight,” the 36-year-old, who retired as a racing driver in 2015, told Arab News.
“I think it’s already a big step forward that women in Saudi are allowed to drive.
“Women are driving and can be inspired and become very passionate to take it to the next level and go on to a race track. It always takes only one (person). Sometimes in life you just need to believe it.
“I believe that there are a few Saudi women who are already racing in drifting, so I think that over time, with the right support and the right level of inspiration, that it could be something that could happen in the future.”
In 2016, Wolff — whose racing career encompassed several disciplines such as the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaf (DTM), the German Touring Car series — launched an initiative called Dare to Be Different aimed at inspiring more women into motorsport.
Wolff regrets that she was not able “with the timing to put on a Dare to Be Different event” in Riyadh, but hopes to launch it at next year’s race.
She is, however, thrilled that at least seven female racing drivers will take part in a Formula E test the day after the Saudi race.
Those confirmed for the test include the UAE’s Amna Al-Qubaisi, who started karting at 13 and has competed internationally in Formula Four. Her father Khaled was the first Emirati to compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours race.
Wolff’s choice for Venturi, meanwhile, is Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro, who competed in two Formula E races in 2015 and was a test driver with the Sauber F1 team the year before.
“Saudi Arabia has been very supportive of trying to get Saudi women out on the race track,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic to see women getting the chance to drive in Formula E.
“I was in Riyadh in September, my first time (there). I was very heavily briefed as a woman going, but I was very positively welcomed and was very positively surprised by the enthusiasm to have the race there; the track looks fantastic.
“As the season-opener, it’s going to be very exciting for Formula E to go to a new destination.”
Venturi finished a disappointing seventh in last season’s championship, but have been buoyed by the addition of the former F1 star Felipe Massa.
Wolff is delighted to have someone of the caliber and experience of the Brazilian, who won 11 Grands Prix in a 15-year F1 career, on board.
She said Massa and his teammate Edoardo Mortara can secure “regular top-eight finishes” as she targets slow but steady progress.
“I made it clear from the beginning that this is a three-year-plan,” Wolff explained.
“This year it’s about consistency and being consistently in the points.
“It’s difficult to aim too high in terms of race wins and regular podiums because obviously the level of Formula E is getting tougher and tougher as there are more and more manufacturers.”