Heading into the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), Kerala Blasters FC will be looking forward not only to improve on their seventh-place finish last year, but also to take home the elusive crown.
With this aim in mind, the Kochi-based club have roped in Karolis Skinkys as their new sporting director. The 30-year-old will be in charge of key decisions, including team selection, scouting and recruitment at the club going forward.
Skinkys comes with several years of experience under his belt as the sporting director of FK Suduva, a top division club in Lithuania. Under his guidance, Suduva rose to the top of the Lithuanian first division league in 2017 and stayed there for three seasons. Eventually, they qualified for the 2020 UEFA Champions League, the first time in the club’s history.’
“We are looking to build a compact team on a budget. Our aim is to sign skillful players with the right attitude who have the ability to take the team forward,” Skinkys said.
Excerpts from an interview:
What are your responsibilities as the sporting director?
I will be supervising all the sporting activities at Kerala Blasters. That include team selection, scouting and recruitment of young and budding talents. I’m also in charge of the club’s youth development programme. My job is that of a connecting link between the club and the management. I will be answerable if the team fails to deliver or things don’t go as planned.
How was your experience with FK Suduva, your former club?
The team won the Lithuanian first division league three times on the trot. During these three seasons, they were close to bagging a UEFA European Championship spot. Remarkably, we did it on a tight budget.
How do you evaluate the football scene in India?
People associated with professional sports tend to have good character traits while being very competitive. From my experience so far, I can say that people in India and Kerala are very positive and flexible. That will make may job easy, I believe.
Blasters’ former coach Eelco Schattorie is disappointed that he had to leave the club after only a season at the helm…
I’ve watched the team’s all matches in the 2019-20 season. Schattorie has done a wonderful job. He is a true professional. But when I was tasked with the responsibility of picking a new coach, I believe I made the best possible decision. Kibu Vicuna is somebody who can bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the franchise.
Sandesh Jhingan, who was a solid presence in Kerala Blasters’s backline for six seasons, has left the club. What is your reaction?
It was unfortunate. The way I see it, life is a mixture of good and bad. We have to accept it and there is no point in being adamant and resist spontaneous and natural changes. I have huge respect for Jhingan the player. We still maintain a cordial relationship.
What is your team-building philosophy?
We are not in a position to avail the services of world-class young footballers. It is a fact that only the retired and over-the-hill overseas players are keen to join football leagues in Asia. Getting as many youngsters as possible is our priority. But we cannot compromise on quality. Age or other factors are only secondary. We will try to sign the best players who fit within our budget.
How do you rate the Indian players in the league?
There are some many young talents who rose through the ranks of Kerala Blasters. The franchise has always reposed its faith in youngsters. I’m sure that some of these players have the potential to play in European leagues in the future.