Akbar Nawas wants to develop 'thinking footballers' at Chennai City FC

Chennai City FC head coach Akbar Nawas tasted success in his very first season with the club by lifting the 2018-19 I-League title - the first for a club from the state of Tamil Nadu and one to remember.

The former Singapore youth international featured in a webinar 'My coaching philosophy' hosted by the club on Saturday where he revealed the intricacies of his style of coaching.

He also spoke about need to develop players who are intelligent and react well to game-situations.

"When you see your player doing something during training you may think if they can do it in a game. So developing thinking footballers was part of the philosophy that me and my team of coaches were deeply fixated upon," stated the 44-year-old.

"The main part of this philosophy is to build players to react to the dynamic situation that the game presents. We want to expose our players to situations so that they become good enough to make better decisions under pressure," he added.

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Nawas credited former youth development and assistant Jordi Gris Vila for instilling the coaching philosophy and aiding in the scouting of the foreigners that played a crucial role in their maiden championship.

In what is a rare instance of a head coach learning more from his assistant, Nawaz stated that he shaped his coaching philosophy from his interactions with Vila.

"Jordi Gris Vila was a great influence in shaping me as a coach. He, in fact, shared with me all the nuances of this philosophy. Without him sharing with me all that he knows, I don't think I would have carried on with such belief, conviction and commitment towards this cause because for this philosophy, you really need to be brave and I was lucky enough to meet such a person and to be guided by him."

Following Vila's move to New York City FC, the Chennai City coach proceeded with K. Balagumaran, someone he knew from his days in Singapore. And according to Nawas, the belief of club owner Rohit Ramesh has also played a vital influence in the success they have achieved with the philosophy.

"Credit to my friend Jordi and owner Ramesh - Without these two influences, it would have been very difficult for a coach like me to be brave enough to go to a league in another country. To have assistant coach Bala was also important," he acknowledged.

He continued, "This philosophy can take a long time - three to four years or even more than five years. The whole season may be spent only on developing possession. After Jordi left, I remember we were bemused with players running all over the place in the first session. That is where doubts came in, whether we could play (continue with) this philosophy but then we decided to go on. It was a learning curve."

Nawas recalled the game against Bahraini side Al Riffa in the 2020 AFC Champions League qualifiers earlier this year  where they went down 1-0. He mentioned that despite their defeat, he was pleased to have seen some brilliant passage of play from his players.

"It would actually be a disappointment to my players if I stop them from playing with this philosophy against a top team because you never know if you can do it or not. We lost 1-0 (against Al Riffa) but we built up 26 times from their pressing. We invited them to press and after 15 minutes Al Riffa decided to sit back. That was the respect we got," he recalled.

"Tears rolled down my eyes, not because we lost, because of the joy that I had that we could play like this - especially the local players - in this magnitude of a game."

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Chennai City finished seventh in the last I-League season that had to be concluded with four matches to spare on account of the scare of the Coronavirus pandemic, but Nawas looks forward to a work in progress.

"This season, because we didn't win the championship, doesn't mean that we are not perfect. Whatever wrong we do this season can make us better (next season).

In fact, this season, I learned more as a coach as compared to the previous season. If you combine the good and the bad from the first two seasons, what you can do in the third season is a never ending philosophy. I don't have a specific time-frame but for me it's always a work in progress," he mentioned.

And when it comes to convincing the fans, he conceded, "The only way to convince a fan is to show results and we were blessed that the results came out. We were very focused on the process and we were lucky enough to get the outcome as well. Personally, I believe that you need to have this process to get this outcome. Without this process, you could have the outcome but it could be short term."