Football: Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas is I-League's best coach as champions Chennai City sweep awards

(From right) Chennai City coach Akbar Nawas, striker Jozef Kaplan and assistant coach K. Balagumaran celebrating with the I-League trophy.
(From right) Chennai City coach Akbar Nawas, striker Jozef Kaplan and assistant coach K. Balagumaran celebrating with the I-League trophy.PHOTO: COURTESY OF AKBAR NAWAS

SINGAPORE - Singaporean Akbar Nawas has been named the I-League's best coach after leading Chennai City to their first title earlier this month.

The Indian team swept seven out of 10 categories at the I-League awards and trophy presentation ceremony at the Taj Corramandel in Chennai on Wednesday (March 20).

Akbar received the Syed Abdul Rahim Best Coach Award, while Chennai's Spanish imports Roberto Eslava, Nestor Jesus Gordillo and Pedro Manzi were named the league's best defender, midfielder and forward respectively.

With 21 goals, Manzi shared the top-scorer award with Churchill Brothers' Willis Plaza, and was also voted the league's best player.

Akbar and his assistant K. Balagumaran have been credited for transforming Chennai from relegation stragglers last season to champions this year as they reaped the rewards for preaching and practising an attacking style of football.

Akbar, 43, told The Straits Times: "It has been a great season to remember, and the award was made possible because of my players, who did their jobs on the pitch to win the league.

"After finishing second with Tampines Rovers in Singapore (2016) and Global Cebu in the Philippines (2017), there is huge personal satisfaction in winning the league title with Chennai in India and helping them reach the AFC Champions League qualifiers."

Chennai also received a congratulatory message from Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

In a letter addressed to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), he wrote: "I was delighted to hear that Chennai City FC have been crowned 2018/19 I-League champions. It gives me great pleasure to congratulate them for their first-ever championship title.

"This is, no doubt, the result of effort and hard work, and everybody involved can be proud of this great achievement. I encourage them to continue working with determination and motivation.

"On behalf of the entire football community, I take this opportunity to thank Chennai City FC and your federation for helping spread the positive message of football and foster the practice of this beautiful game that unites us all."

The achievement of Akbar and Balagumaran has not gone unnoticed by the AIFF and the duo are said to be on its radar for the vacant India national coach position.

Akbar admitted that he has been approached by other teams, but he is keen to take Chennai forward in the new 20-team Indian Football League next season that will unify the I-League and the Indian Super League.

"I have received offers and I'm in discussions with my club owner about the future," said Akbar, who was named the Coach of the Year by Philippine news website Rappler for the inaugural season of the Philippines Football League in 2017.