CHENNAI: In his first-ever interaction with local media in July, Chennaiyin FC head coach Thomas Brdaric had stressed: “The foreigners are here to make a difference [on the pitch]; that is why we bring them to the club.”
But, due to injuries to some of the overseas recruits, the German tactician has been forced to work with a depleted squad for the majority of the Indian Super League 2022-23 season thus far. For the fourth successive game – the home fixture against the unbeaten Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here on Saturday – Brdaric will miss the services of at least one foreign player.
The injured forward Kwame Karikari will continue to remain on the sidelines after being absent from the 1-0 victory over East Bengal FC in Kolkata last week. Rubbing salt into the wound, central defender Vafa Hakhamaneshi, an ever-present since he broke into the starting line-up in the Durand Cup, has been suspended for the Mumbai City match as he was sent off in CFC’s previous game.
“Karikari is unfortunately not ready to play. He got injured last week (he was struggling with a calf issue),” said Brdaric, who will have to make do with only four overseas options against MCFC. Among them, attacking midfielder Nasser El Khayati is not up to speed, having last played a competitive match – against ATK Mohun Bagan in Kolkata on October 10 – about a month ago. “Nasser is an option,” added Brdaric.
Manager banks on squad depth
Only the versatile Julius Duker was involved from start to finish in each of Chennaiyin’s first four ISL matches. Vafa, centre-back Fallou Diagne and striker Petar Sliskovic started every game while Karikari came off the bench thrice. El Khayati, the last-minute replacement for Rafael Crivellaro, was thrown into action without a proper pre-season and was subsequently away from the pitch for a few weeks.
Brdaric has been able to name the full quota (six) of foreigners in a matchday squad only once – against ATKMB – but the manager is not moaning about the lack of options.
“We have a lot of players who can prove themselves and show us in the training sessions that they want to play in matches (CFC has named a 35-member ISL squad). We are building a team to be an important part of the ISL. Everybody can contribute to this team. They should get chances to play,” said Brdaric, who has also had to deal with injuries to a few Indian players.
“I try to find a stable team that will be strong in our settings (tactics). We should be mentally fit. Physically, everyone needs to have good preparation. Some players did not have enough preparation,” explained Brdaric. Chennaiyin (7 points from 4 matches) has coped with injuries, but cannot afford to miss a host of players due to fitness issues every game.