Kerala Blasters have never found it easy with managers. After ten managers and seven seasons of ISL, Kerala this time may want to rethink and reassess their patience with their managers. In light of this, the Blasters management will now be looking forward to a new era, working with the newly appointed head coach Ivan Vukomanovic.
The onus will be huge on Ivan as he becomes Kerala’s 11th head coach in as many as seven years. Kerala Blasters had parted ways with Kibu Vicuña mid-season after poor performances in the last edition of ISL. In an exclusive interview with IFTWC, Ivan Vukomanovic discussed his managerial career, plans for the squad, pre-season, and the philosophy he will keep in mind while hiring new players.
What is your first impression of the Indian style of playing football? Besides your playing stints at Maccabi Herzliya and Qingdao Jonoon, you haven’t plied trade in Asia; hence how confident are you in implementing your philosophies here?
“Football language is the same worldwide. It’s about the process and the approach you implement when you become a part of one club or federation. We will try to adapt as soon as possible and hope we will be capable of imposing our philosophy.”
It has been noted that you rotate your players quite a lot. Is there any specific reason behind it, and aren’t you worried it might affect the chemistry development among the players?
“I like to give time and space to all players in developing and becoming better. It’s a sign of confidence. The players work hard to play the games. The rotation is an everyday moment during one season; it happens worldwide in every club.
“If you play many games and your calendar is hard, it’s normal you give some fresh players time to prove themselves. It can never affect your team negatively; it can only improve your team because you’ll have more players ready to play every day.”
ISL has brought about a new rule wherein a club can only pitch four foreigners at once. What is your take on this rule, and what qualities will you prefer while choosing the foreigners for the club?
“I think it pushes clubs to think twice before signing foreign players. It obliges clubs to invest more in their own youth and produce more Indian players. It is a normal process that happens all around the world. It’s all connected; if a club produces players, there will be more domestic players with quality. If there are more players with quality, the national teams will be stronger. Everybody can benefit from that fact in the end.”
Now that Kerala Blasters have released all their foreigners, you will have to build the foreign contingent from scratch. Do you see that as an easy task or a difficult task?
“I see that as an interesting moment. We will try to sign players we need not just for one season. KBFC will try to build up a nice project with consistency and a positive mindset.”
In your coaching career, long gaps are noticeable each time you shift your team? What is the reason behind it?
“I always wanted to take some time to take a rest and think about certain moments. It’s a period of self-evaluation. I am a guy who doesn’t jump into every call that comes. I want to work with a reason.
“Last time, my family suffered a lot due to COVID-19. I lost my father last November, my mother hardly survived, my brother was sick with his wife and kids, I was sick, it all took time, and I didn’t want to work in that period. I wanted to be close to my family, seeing the fact that I lived abroad for more than half of my life. I needed that period for myself. It doesn’t have to worry anybody; football is my life and passion. Coaching job is something I like to do, and it can’t be forgotten.”
After having coached previously in 2019, and having taken up the job at Blasters in 2021, what are the key lessons that you’ve learned in your coaching career?
“Like every year, football is going through an evolution like everything else. You always learn something new. From a human side, it felt good to be with family.”
Given the fact that Kerala Blasters have changed their coach eleven times, and also the fact that you have had short stints at the clubs you’ve been at previously, what’s your vision for Kerala Blasters? Do you have a long-term project, or are you looking for quick results?
“We have a long-term vision and hope we will be capable of implementing it in KBFC. In football, you never know what will and could happen. I am glad to become part of this great project with good people.”
Kerala Blasters seem to be building their team quite sensibly to try and keep away past disappointments this season. With the addition of a top player like Adrián Luna, can we expect more such signings to be at the club? And will there be any big names?
“As we announced before, there will be some interesting signings. I think that the signing of Adrián Luna took many by surprise. I think he is a very good player and he could be of huge value to our team. We are not looking only at the player’s names per se, and it is not the name and game that will win the games. We must consider our possibilities and budget when approaching some of those players. I think that we will have more interesting signings in the next period.
What is your analysis of the Blasters squad you have at your disposal to date? Can we expect some reserve teams lads to make their names in the teamsheet at the start of this season?
“I think there is interesting potential in KBFC. We will have our pre-season period and training sessions. It doesn’t matter how old is one player; if he has the quality to play on the senior level, he will be welcome in our team. We will work hard and see what the outcome will be.”
How do you rate the signing of Harmanjot Khabra? What will be his role in your game plan?
“We are very pleased to sign him to our squad. We will see later during our pre-season about his role in our team. I hope he will work hard and become an important part of KBFC.”
Kerala Blasters is a club that has been haunted by the recurrent injuries of their key players, especially foreigners, for the past few seasons. What’s the club planning to do to overcome this obstacle?
“We will try to organise a good pre-season which is a key to a successful season. All the players must work hard and prepare for the period ahead of us. In football, a player has to believe that his big moment will be tomorrow, around the corner. A player must never think that his big moment is far away in the future, that he will be somehow warned before that moment comes, and that he will have plenty of time to get ready. But what if that warning never comes? What if your big game and moment is the next game tomorrow? Would you rather be ready or have to get ready? If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. So, the players must accept the fact that they must work hard and be ready. In football, it goes really fast.”
What’s your opinion about opening the stadiums for the fans, keeping the numbers limited?
“I think it would be great if possible. We must all respect and accept the fact that the struggle with COVID-19 will come to an end soon. Hope to see our fans soon because they are of huge value to our team.”
What updates can you give about the club’s preseason planning, given the current COVID situation?
“We are still waiting for some confirmation about going abroad for a certain period. We would like to organise a good pre-season with different friendly games against good international teams. It would have a huge impact on the improvement of players in every possible way. Again, we will have to adapt to the present situation due to COVID-19 restrictions. We will see about all that the moment we arrive in Kochi because it changes every week.”
Last but not least, your message for the fans.
“I can’t wait to arrive in Kochi and start all the things we planned. I hope we will work hard and make all our fans happy and proud. Stay safe all, and God bless you all. See you soon.”
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