Kerala Blasters bids adieu to troubled marriage

Sabari Jagannathan  |  ISL-5  |  2 Months Ago

A year back from now, Kerala Blasters was amidst hot waters after Rene, a former Manchester United assistant coach was shown the door midway through the season. It was a sedate start in the preceding season for the two-time finalists and the management was quick enough to bid adieu to the Manchester United gaffer.


The management acted swiftly to bring in David James as a replacement. It was a sensible choice per-se at that moment, to say the least as David James led the Blasters to the finals in the inaugural season. The former Liverpool custodian played the dual role of a player and a manager with perfection as the football-rich state got off to a brilliant start in the glamorous tournament. Since then, the management nosedived into utter chaos. While Steve Coppell did manage to take the Kochi side to finals once again, Steve wasn’t retained, much to the shock of the fans. Steve is once again in contention for the playoff spot, with a different team of course while the Kerala Blasters are languishing at the bottom of the table. 


This season witnessed a record new low for the club. The disappointments include their longest winless streak of ISL, their own fans boycotting the game and a huge embarrassment in front of the German legend, Lothar Matthaus. David James, usually a bright character, was reduced to a grim face on the sidelines. You cannot point out to one particular match or one specific moment where things fell apart for the Kochi side. Things started on a very bright note, with an impressive win on the opening night. Ever since then, it has been a long drought for David’s side.


There were question marks over the long-term contract offered to James at the beginning of the tournament. David James did not manage to make the playoffs in the last season but a marked improvement in the performance of the side in stark contrast to Rene convinced the management to place their trust in Kerala’s former gaffer. But the circumstances surrounding the contract were not ideal. Their marquee signing Berbatov decided to leave the club before the Super Cup 2018, lashing out at the playing style under James.

Labelled as the “worst wannabe coach”, David arguably had a point to prove. He changed course in terms of recruitment and called it “right players at the right price”. No exorbitant amount was spent on signing any big names but some shrewd buys did put Kerala into a brilliant position at the start of the tournament. The average age of the squad was around 23 and there was no excuse of not having players of his choice in the squad. And yet, the results remained elusive.


While the results always have the final say, the biggest low was not the outcome but the behaviour of the “so-called” fans. Fans were annoyed with their team and decided to “boycott” the games but barely that could have improved the lot. The end result was an embarrassment in front of the German legend for the entire footballing culture of the country.


"I can also hold a protest against my wife for not cooking well enough. You have to support your team in good times and bad times. I saw the Kochi team last night, they didn't have a good result... but they didn't give up and kept trying till the end... the coach, the players, they gave their all,”  - cited Lothar Matthaus.


It absolutely makes no sense to hand a long-term contract to a coach, and then sack him midway through the first season. But it is totally understandable as the team management did not have many choices in front of them.


There were several baffling decisions made by David. Blasters were struggling throughout the tournament for any sort of consistency in the starting eleven. James changed his line-up drastically in almost every other game completely denying any opportunity to the players to settle down into a consistent role. In a high-octane derby against the struggling Chennaiyin FC, David decided to drop Sandesh and Vineeth, two players who are fan favourites and bring obvious quality to the team. The team were lucky to escape a drubbing at the hand of the defending champions due to their profligacy. There were multiple occasions throughout the tournament that James decided not to fill up the quota of foreigners in the starting eleven. While it is an encouraging sign for the Indian talents, it puts into question the idea behind his foreign recruitments (for high fees) if they cannot dislodge a local talent from the lineup.


Worst start to a season in their short history, longest winless streak, fading fickle fan group, embarrassment in front of German legend, the writing was on the wall for some time. The troubled marriage had to end. It’s a pity that the honeymoon period under James in the inaugural season will be soon forgotten.


For now, it’s back to the drawing board for the Blasters. They will be hoping to get off to a better start this time.


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