Will Kerala Blasters’ era of misery end under Ivan Vukomanovic?
Kerala Blasters have one of the biggest fan bases in Indian and Asian football but their loyal supporters have been treated with only disappointment over the last few years. At times, the Tuskers have played soulless football on the pitch whilst their management should also be blamed for poor decision-making in terms of assembling the squad.
A club well known for jumping the gun early and making wholesale changes every season, the Blasters have carried the tradition forward and welcomed a new head coach in Ivan Vukomanovic for the upcoming season of the Indian Super League.
A look at last season’s performance
Kerala Blasters have tried their fate with different coaches and barring a few, most of them have failed to impress. Looking at it from another perspective, it can also be said that their management has not given any coach the required time to convey his philosophy, and has hunted for immediate results.
The Kochi-based outfit finished tenth last season, ahead of only basement boys Odisha, winning only three matches and conceding 36 goals. Under the tutelage of former manager Kibu Vicuna, several star players spent a significant time on the sidelines with injury concerns further hurting the Tuskers.
New Signings ahead of the 2021-22 ISL season
After an abysmal season, the Yellow Army has made changes aplenty to their roster, especially in their foreign contingent as they have parted ways with all of their overseas players from last season including the impressive Jordan Murray.
In defense, Vukomanovic’s team has signed former Chennaiyin defender Enes Sipovic, while partnering him at the heart of the defense will be Croatian international Marko Leskovic. Whilst Sipovic has prior experience of playing in the ISL, Leskovic brings in leadership and quality as he has previously plied his trade for renowned teams like Dinamo Zagreb and HNK Rijeka.
Along with the foreign duo, the Serbian manager has also signed prodigious talents Ruivah Hormipan and Sanjeev Stalin along with the defensive-minded Harmanjot Singh Khabra to bolster the Kerala backline.
Coming to their midfield, Uruguayan midfielder Adrian Luna is the club’s biggest acquisition as the creative midfielder’s prized assets are his quick feet, agility, and vision to find the right passes.
The Tuskers have also roped in a few accomplished forwards for the upcoming season. Former Minerva Punjab starlet Chencho Gyeltshen joined the club as an AFC quota player whilst Argentine forward Jorge Pereyra Diaz will add to Kerala’s attacking depth with his versatility.
Most importantly, the Kochi-based outfit has made a big statement by acquiring the services of Spanish striker Alvaro Vazquez. The Spaniard has experience of playing in the La Liga, the English Premier League, and the UEFA Europa League, and he is expected to shoulder the goalscoring responsibility for the Blasters this season.
Predicted Starting Lineup
Albino Gomes; Sandeep Singh, Marko Leskovic, Enes Sipovic, Nishu Kumar; Harmanjot Khabra, Jeakson Singh; Rahul KP, Sahal Abdul Samad, Adrian Luna, Alvaro Vazquez.
The Serbian tactician has a varied foreigner contingent at his disposal in players like Sipovic, Leskovic, Vazquez, and Luna. If the high-profile foreigners can acclimatize to the conditions quickly, the Kerala squad will be boosted by their experience and quality.
The addition of Khabra will also add versatility to the squad along with filling in the void of an experienced Indian leader at the back since the departure of Sandesh Jhingan.
Kerala Blasters have a glaring weakness in their defensive midfield area with the club deciding not to sign a proper defensive screen. Jeakson Singh is more than capable of filling up that role but an experienced foreign player in the middle of the park would have prevented the Blasters’ starting XI from looking lopsided ahead of the upcoming season.
Also, the decision to loan out Naorem Mahesh Singh and Subha Ghosh does not make a lot of practical sense. The former Buriram United manager has very few domestic options upfront and if the overseas duo of Vazquez and Diaz picks up an injury, the Blasters will be in serious trouble.
The Blasters’ fans would want to see their team play attractive football, fight for points and show the desire to give one hundred percent for the crest – something lacking in last season’s roster. Vukomanovic’s first task will be to improve Kerala’s overall gameplay and maintain a passionate and determined dressing room.
Every team aims for the playoffs at the start of the season but already having finished outside the top five for the last four seasons, Manjappada will be most pleased to see renewed vigor and energy in the squad.