It was a season to forget for Kerala Blasters as the seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is nearing its end. With 17 points from 20 matches, Blasters finished 10th on the 11-team points table. They won only three matches, lost nine and drew eight while scoring 23 goals and conceding 36. I don't think even their adversaries would have expected such a poor performance from them.
Expectations were palpably high when Blasters roped in Kibu Vicuna who guided Mohun Bagan to their final I-League glory. The franchise opted for a mix of youth and experience to execute his strategies on the field and brought in seasoned campaigners like Gary Hooper, Costa Nhamoinesu, and Vicente Gomez along with a bunch of young Indian prospects.
If football was being played on paper, I don't see any reason why this Blasters team could not make it to the play-offs! Despite fielding a strong side featuring some high quality foreign and local players and playing attractive football, the Yellow Brigade fell by the wayside, thanks to their leaky defence.
The team’s backline had a different complexion this season following the departure of a number of established players. It was expected that the experienced centre-back pairing of Costa and Kone could hold the key to end their defensive woes. However, the big names brought in to marshal the defence did not live up to the expectations. They were prone to big mistakes and were often caught sleeping during crucial moments. The matches that Blasters either lost or drew after taking the lead put their defensive flaws on display.
At the same time, their midfield and the forward line-up deserve credit. This was Blasters’ best midfield combination as compared to that of previous seasons. After a shaky start, the attackers too found their groove. This year it was the young players like Rahul K P, Sahal Abdul Samad and Jeakson Singh who formed the backbone of the team, which definitely augurs well for the future of Blasters.
Stop chopping and changing
Expecting a new coach to change the team's fortunes is absurd. I'm of the opinion that if Eelco Schattorie was retained, he could have made some difference to the team. Make no mistake, I want Vicuna to be back at the helm. There are fine examples to follow in the ISL itself. In Sergio Lobera's first season, FC Goa played an attractive brand of football but their defence crumbled under pressure. In the next season, he managed to plug those loopholes and built a strong and cohesive team.
Blasters need to do away with the habit of changing the nucleus of the team every season. If you keep a team together and work with them‚ eventually you will be able to reap the rewards. Blasters should take a leaf out of Hyderabad's book. The focus should be on helping young players reach their full potential before the team is built around this core group.
The team management needs to return to the drawing board and engage in introspection. The solution lies in adopting a long-term strategy and being more professional in their approach. They have to get their act together before it is too late.
Do it for fans!
Not many teams in the ISL have consistently caused heartbreak to their fans quite like Blasters. Their loyal supporters eagerly wait for a season to start with the hope that Blasters would do well this time around. But in the end, they feel cheated and let down by their favourite team.
The team management should make some sincere efforts to bring an end to this misery. I hope the franchise will learn from the mistakes and do a better job next year.
(The writer is a former captain of the Indian football team)