Ex-Villa coach John Gregory who sought Bhaichung Bhutia’s trial joins Chennaiyin FC
John Gregory will succeed former Italy defender Marco Materazzi who guided the club to the Indian Super League title in 2015 as a player-manager.football Updated: Jul 03, 2017 20:48 IST
Nearly 20 years after Bhaichung Bhutia went as a triallist to Aston Villa where he was head coach, John Gregory will take over from Marco Materazzi at former Indian Super League (ISL) champions Chennaiyin FC.
In 1998-99, a season during which Villa led the title race for a while and when there was no Asian footballer in the Premiership, Bhutia was on the radar of the club. A report in The Guardian dated March 10, 1999, stated that Gregory would assess Bhutia.
The report quoted Bhutia’s agent Gordon Smith as saying: “The club have offered him training facilities for a few days to see if he will like it over here and if he feels he can settle. There is a large Indian community in the West Midlands area and the club is keen to search for fresh talent which reflects this.”
Gregory’s first tryst with football in India though didn’t go beyond a cursory introduction with Bhutia. “I don’t remember him being there when I trialled because Villa were perhaps playing away but I did meet him briefly afterwards,” said Bhutia here on Monday.
“In the middle of a severe winter, I played for Villa’s reserves side,” said Bhutia, who is now an advisor to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel and runs eponymous football schools in different parts of India.
Between then and now, Bhutia became first from independent India to be given a professional contract by an English club when Bury FC signed him on a three-year deal and the first footballer to get the Padma Shri while still a player. Bayern Munich played Bhutia’s testimonial in New Delhi in January 2012, the only time an Indian footballer was given such a send-off.
Gregory, 63, too travelled to Asia when he joined Kazakhstan’s FC Kairat in 2011. In 2014, he had an open heart surgery that forced him to step down as Crawley’s manager.
Jeje set to be retained
Gregory is likely to be in India before the Indian players’ draft, tentatively scheduled on July 23. Chennaiyin FC are likely to retain Jeje Lalpekhlua and goalie Karanjit Singh. Lalpekhlua also played for Mohun Bagan for the past three seasons.