9 in 7 – Analysing the sacking of Kibu Vicuna

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Kibu Vicuna, the 9th person to take in charge of Kerala Blasters FC over the course of seven seasons of ISL, mutually parted ways with Kerala Blasters FC after losing to Hyderabad FC on a deplorable four-goal margin loss. IFTWC had previously done a feature revealing certain things that had been happening inside the Kerala Blasters FC management. Although, now let’s get a deeper look into the plot of the said issue.

(To read the aforementioned feature, click here – Kerala Blasters are falling apart, again)

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Kerala Blasters FC mutually parted ways with their newly earmarked gaffer, Kibu Vicuna, after having shamefully lost to Hyderabad FC on a 4-0 score-line. But this significant showcase of instability over the past seven years is not a new thing for the Kerala Blasters FC management. Kerala Blasters has found near success in two seasons of the ISL, and from both seasons the management failed to retain the coaches and several key players in the team. Afterward, under the reign of Eelco Schattorie, they put forth an appreciable brand of football and yet sacked the coach after the season.

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The arrival of the new Sporting Director, Karolis Skinkys, was all about heaping praises and fixing the previously made errors inside the club. Karolis Skinkys had even told before the season started that if the players or the team doesn’t perform well, then he’ll be the person to blame. And when Kibu Vicuna left, Karolis Skinkys told, “I would like to thank Kibu for his honesty and responsibility in this decision. We had a clear objective to make improvements in this season. Unfortunately, the results were not what we expected them to be. We are grateful for his commitment and professionalism towards the club and wish him well for the future.”

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But, logically speaking, hiring an inexpert who doesn’t happen to have any previous knowledge about Indian Football was clearly not the right move for a club like Kerala Blasters. Some of the close sources of IFTWC, and as already mentioned by Kibu Vicuna on the post-match press conference, “The scouting of the team was poor this season. Kibu Vicuna had lesser say in choosing the players. He (the Sporting Director) did some average recruitment. Almost all the foreigners were chosen by him.

“For the past month, players weren’t in the same line of thought as Kibu Vicuna, and the players had trained under Gary Hooper as well. The Sporting Director rejected Nerijus Valskis, Joao Victor, Dylan Fox, Fran Gonzalez, Xisco Hernandez, and so on. He also rejected key players from I-League like Joseba Beitia and several other good players who were pitched who weren’t previously linked with ISL. All the Indian players who are putting forth a decent performance like Albino Gomes, Rahul KP, Jeakson Singh, Sandeep Singh Soraisham, Sahal Abdul Samad, and so on were pushed and renewed by the Assistant Coach and the Director of Football of Kerala Blasters FC. The other Indian recruitments like Nishu Kumar and most of the foreign recruitments were done by the Sporting Director himself. He mostly went for names with a great bag of experience like Bakary Kone and so on. Bakary Kone hasn’t played professional football for 2 years. Similarly, Costa Nhamoinesu is also too old now and not so great in terms of fitness. They didn’t sign a proper attacking midfielder. They got Vicente Gomez for that position and Facundo Pereyra (who was returning from an injury). They have signed players from too many different nationalities.

“It is bizarre to choose Gary Hooper and Jordan Murray over Bartholomew Ogbeche, who has been amongst the top scorers in the ISL for the past couple of seasons. It was not Ogbeche’s decision to move to Mumbai City FC, it was the management that decided to send him off for a loan. If they Tiri and Ogbeche in the team, they would have made it to the top four. Salam Ranjan Singh was offered multiple times but they never wanted him. And for this season, they started playing the players in positions that weren’t their natural ones. They didn’t try to bring in a proper replacement for Sandesh Jhingan.”

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Coach Pradhyum Reddy exclusively told IFTWC, “The basic thing to notice about the club is that they have had several different coaches since the commencement of the league, and they have changed and recruited several different players over the years. In any football club, you have certain things that are the constants and then you have certain things that are the variables. The variables, in this case, are obviously the coaches and the players, because they have kept changing them year after year, and what’s been constant is the lack of success. So, you have got to take a look at what these several constants that have been at the club and that has been working behind this team over the years, and you have got to take steps in changing them. Unless they are changed, the club is going to continue in the same way.”

On an Instagram live with Manjappada, Kibu Vicuna said, “Kerala Blasters played well last season (under Eelco Schattorie). They often enjoyed more possession of the ball than their opponents, but that did not amount to much because the number of chances they created was very less. So, this time, I’ll be looking to allow the team to continue playing a possession-based style while forcing them to work hard on creating more goalscoring chances. I will also be focusing on developing a more organized defense because I believe that the team conceded too many goals last season due to defensive errors.” (Transcript is taken from an article of another media house).

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Contrary to what Kibu Vicuna had quoted, Kerala Blasters FC scored the greatest number of goals in their history of footballing under the reign of Eelco Schattorie. Up until 18/02/2021, Kerala Blasters FC scored 22 and conceded 33 in the 7th season of ISL whereas, under Eelco Schattorie, they had scored 29 and conceded 32. And on top of that, Kibu Vicuna had to change his possession-based philosophy in between the season and was late to recognize that a two-striker system was more effective than a single-striker system. This connotes the lack of analysis that was put into building the Kerala Blasters FC team for the 7th season of ISL. Most of the goals scored during this season were from set-pieces and not from open play.

For the 15 games in which Eelco Schattorie was present on the pitch during last season (was suspended for the other three games), Kerala Blasters FC never lost with more than a one-goal margin favouring the opponent.

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It might be safe to say that Kerala Blasters FC was building something worthwhile during the 6th season of the ISL, albeit they had to deal with a lot of injuries, unlike this season. Under the reign of Eelco Schattorie, Kerala Blasters FC beat Bengaluru FC for the first time in their history and they managed to beat ATK twice in that season, and they were the only team to do so.

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This time around, the coach, the technical director, and the whole recruitment team had enough time to recruit the right players in the right positions but the results of this season show that the management failed to show any progress at all, unlike the previous season.

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Kaushal Subramaniam M R
An aspiring Singer/Songwriter/Musician/Writer. Doing Journalism and Mass Communication at SRM Chennai. Native place Manjeri, Malappuram, Kerala.

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