Kerala Blasters enjoy one of the most loyal fan bases among football clubs across the globe. But the Indian Super League (ISL) side has found the going tough of late. Apart from 2014 and 2016 when the Yellow Brigade finished runners-up, they have failed to make the play-offs. Following the disastrous 2020-21 campaign, in which they finished seventh in the 11-team league and saw their then manager Kibu Vicuna exit, Blasters are determined to come up with an improved show this time around.
The team management has roped in Serb Ivan Vukomanovic to turn around the fortunes of the club ahead of ISL Season 8 which is scheduled to begin in mid-November. The 43-year-old has managed top division clubs in Belgium, Slovakia, and Cyprus. Vukomanovic talks about the challenges of his new role in an e-mail interview with Onmanorama.
You had managed three clubs before joining Kerala Blasters. What exactly prompted you to take up this job?
I felt very positive right from the beginning. What fascinated me the most is the professional approach and honesty about football and human values. After having seen the energy around the club and army of fans supporting Kerala Blasters, it was an immediate “yes”. ISL has shown good signs of development so far and I think it’ll become better year by year. I like challenges and I made the decision with all these factors in mind.
What is your coaching philosophy and the preferred style of play?
Every coach has his own style, philosophy and personality. My coaching style is based on human values and sharing. If you know only about football, you are lost. Most of the time the playing style depends on the quality you have in your dressing room. I like modern and quick football involving rapid moves and goals. However, you have to work on every aspect of the game, not only attacking. All good teams know how to attack and how to defend. Our job will be to make the right changes and bolster team productivity. Hope it’ll all come to a better result.
Do you feel the pressure of expectations?
No, I don’t feel any pressure. I look at that more as a motivation to improve and become better. It's part of the game. Football without pressure, adrenaline, atmosphere and expectations doesn’t exist. There are goals and objectives and we work towards them. We have to be all realistic and work hard to achieve them.
Blasters have not retained any of their foreign players from last season. What will be your priorities in the recruiting process?
There are different parameters we focus on. Most of all, I’d like to have players (not only foreigners but domestic as well) who are disciplined, ambitious and passionate. Of course, quality is one of the most important things a player must possess in order to make a difference. These things are of vital importance because we want the players to wear the yellow jersey with pride and sweat it out.
COVID-19 has changed the regular training routines of athletes around the world. What are your pre-season plans and how are you going to tackle the challenges brought about by the pandemic?
We all have to adapt to the new normal. COVID-19 has created many difficulties around the world. We all must be careful and patient until it’s over. We want to organise a good pre-season and work on improving the team.
Argentine midfielder Facundo Pereyra, who had an injury-marred season with Blasters, had played under you in the Cypriot league. Will he be seen again in yellow colours?
The club is in the middle of the recruitment process. We hope to sign players who will make a difference and bring something extra to our team. Facundo is a great player who can be valuable to any team when he is in form. We are all busy with that part of our job and I hope we will soon have some interesting reinforcements to announce. At this point I can't tell whether Facundo will return to Kerala Blasters. Everything is possible in football.
As per the new regulation, an ISL club could sign a maximum of six foreigners in the squad including a compulsory Asian-origin player, with four foreigners on the field. What are your thoughts?
I think it’s a great challenge to all clubs. It pushes clubs to think twice before signing foreign players and prompts them to develop their own players. In both cases, Indian football could profit. It will attract more foreign players with quality and national teams of India, and the (All India) Football Federation will benefit by having more young players with potential to play for India.
Other than football, what are your interests?
I like other sports like tennis, basketball etc. I enjoy reading and learning about history and watching movies. I’d say my interests are mostly the same like any other person.
What is your message to the fans?
We will work hard to improve our team and try to make every person of the Yellow Army happy and proud. Not an easy task, but it's part and parcel of professional football. Nothing happens overnight and instant results and achievements don’t exist in football. You must work hard and be passionate about the game. That’s the only way to achieve success. I'm eagerly waiting to get things into full swing. All the best and see you soon!