After three disappointing seasons, Kerala Blasters are determined to put up a good show in the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL).
This time the Kochi-based franchise is banking on the tactical acumen of Kibu Vicuna, who guided Mohun Bagan to the I-League title this year. Hailing from the land of 'tiki taka', the Spaniard is an exponent of adventurous, high-intensity and attacking football.
Over the past four seasons, Rene Meulensteen, David James, Nelo Vingada and Eelco Schattorie have all tried to propel Blasters into the play-offs without success. Last year, the Yellow Brigade lost seven of the 18 games they played in the league and won only four matches, finishing seventh in the 10-team ISL with 19 points. In the 2017-18 season, they had to be content with a sixth-place finish.
Vicuna, under whom Bagan played a high-tempo, attractive football on the way to secure a second I-League title with four games to spare, says his approach will not be different at Blasters, but he also has a solid plan for their defensive game. His immediate priority is bringing together a compact team with balance in all the departments.
“Maintaining defensive shape is important while playing intense and hard-pressing style of football. Teams need to dominate games, create chances and score goals. In the previous season, Blasters enjoyed the bulk of ball possession in 16 of the 18 games. Teams playing possession-based football should create more chances and win games,” the 48-year-old said during a chat session on the official Instagram handle of the ISL.
What prompted you to join Blasters?
Blasters’ new sporting director (Karolis Skinskys) was the first person to contact me. Thereafter I had a brief discussion with the club’s president. I thought it was a good opportunity and a privilege to be the head coach of a club with a large fan base. I take it as a challenge to form a strong side that plays attractive football. I’m also confident of getting positive results.
What are your pre-season plans?
A decision on the pre-season preparations will be taken once the lockdown ends. Depending on the situation, we will travel abroad or conduct it at home. The first step will be getting the players accustomed to the style of play. Tactical dynamics and intricacies of the game would be introduced to them. It is also important to instill a sense of discipline and unity in players.
Last year Blasters lost several key players to injury. How are you going to tackle such issues?
We have a very good fitness coach with us who will guide and help the players stay fit. Each player needs to be taken care of to ensure that the team is mentally and physically fit in all aspects. Monitoring by the trainer is crucial to avoid injuries or get back on feet post injury. I believe players are working on their fitness during the ongoing coronavirus-forced lockdown.
Who will be the captain of your side?
Let’s wait and see. The team members should also have a say in the matter.
How do you rate the Indian players in the squad?
We have some fine youngsters like Sahal Abdul Samad, K P Rahul, Jackson Singh, and Nongdamba Naorem. Rahul is a skillful player blessed with an abundance of pace. He can excel at different positions. Sahal is a fantastic player. Among the Indian players, he stands out with his quality. Naorem has improved a lot. I’m sure he will get better. Jackson too is on the right path. I love watching V P Suhair play. At this point, I can’t say whether he will join Blasters.