The 2018-19 season was a particularly forgetful one for Chennaiyin FC and their young left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala. The Marina Machans endured a horrid defence of their Indian Super League (ISL) title, finishing rock bottom on the table.
One of the players who suffered a concerning loss of form was Jerry. It also meant Jerry, once a regular presence in the national team camps, was dropped from the India picture.
However, the 22-year-old pulled up his socks and improved his performances in the 2019-20 season where Chennaiyin FC reached the ISL final under the tutelage of Owen Coyle.
The reward for his upturn in form was a new multi-year contract Chennaiyin offered him in July, after fending off interest in the left-back from multiple ISL clubs. Jerry, who made his senior debut for Chennaiyin back in 2016 and won the ISL Emerging Player of the Year award that year, is understandably looking forward to playing in the Chennaiyin blue.
"I am thrilled to have extended my stay with the Chennaiyin family in our quest to bring home the ISL trophy for a third time. There is an atmosphere of learning and improving as much as it is about getting results on the pitch. And that balance has always been maintained at Chennaiyin," he told Goal.
"My aim is to play regularly in the coming season at my optimum level and help the team achieve more silverware."
However, having experienced a personal and collective low in the 2018-19 campaign, Jerry has had to graft hard in order to win his spot in the team. Much of the credit belongs to the belief shown in him by Coyle and his staff, feels Jerry. Coyle has since gone on to join Jamshedpur FC but Jerry has nothing but gratitude for the former Irish international.
"Yes, the arrival of Owen Coyle last season led to a return in belief for me and a lot of other players in the squad that were out of form. Even when the chips are down, we have had to keep working hard and not give in. Coach Owen and assistant coach Sandy Stewart came in and helped us focus on the minor things on the training pitch, and also provided a keen focus on game management.
"I benefitted immensely from their coaching and I’m thankful to them for receiving a continued run in the side. My hope is to pick up where I left off and continue in the coming season."
The Mizoram-born lad also opened up on how Chennaiyin's thrilling 2-1 win over Hyderabad FC last season was the spark of sorts for their terrific turnaround. After four matches without scoring a goal, two injury time goals helped Chennaiyin notch their first win. Though John Gregory would only continue as manager for one more game, Jerry touched upon the importance of that result.
"Obviously the confidence from the coaching staff and my fellow players helped me a lot. At the same time, the unconditional support of the fans also played a massive role. Not just for me, but for everyone within the team as we were facing a slump up until the win against Hyderabad FC that proved to be a turning point.
"The fans really rallied behind me and the entire squad, and that belief played a huge role. We knew that we had to give 200 per cent for the fans who are gunning for us."
Jerry's loss of form had seen Manipur-born left back Tondonba Singh take his place for a while in the 2018-19 season but the competition has spurred Jerry on.
"The competition is always healthy, and it provided the necessary motivation to me to work harder and fight for the spot within the team. I kept giving my best on the training pitch, and the coaches deemed me fit to return to the starting eleven. And then it was also about taking the chances. My teammates helped me out immensely, especially in defence. And what also helped was the momentum we gained by winning games and securing positive results."
The upcoming season is set to see a lot of changes, given the havoc the Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked across the globe including India. The ISL is set to take place at a centralised venue and will most likely be played behind closed doors. While it will be challenging, Jerry feels that, as professionals, they need to cope with it.
"My target always has been to perform well and give my best for the club. I also feel, without the fans in the stands cheering for us, things will be different this time. So, I am mentally preparing myself to cope with all the restrictions this time."
Jerry is currently at his hometown in Mizoram and has been trying to keep himself engaged despite the absence of any regular training in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that the restrictions have slightly eased in the state, Jerry is slowly getting back to the grind.
"I have thankfully been able to spend some quality time with my family, which has always been in short supply. Apart from that, much recently with things opening up slowly in Mizoram, I’m spending some time outdoors with friends in a socially responsible manner obviously. With venturing outdoors relatively safer now in Mizoram, I’ve begun stepping up my fitness regime to get ready for the new season."