February 26, 2019.
Jamshedpur FC were taking on hosts Chennaiyin FC in a must win match. At the end of the 90 minutes, no goals had been scored. However, supporters of one club were rejoicing. It weren’t the fans at the Marina Arena. It weren’t the fans in Jamshedpur. Guess what, it was the fans 2663 kilometres away, in Guwahati, who celebrated their hearts out, because back then, Northeast United had just created history!
Northeast United FC had qualified for the semi-finals for the first time in 5 years of Hero ISL history! On the ground, it was Bartholomew Ogbeche who led the charge. But on the sidelines stood one gentleman- a master tactician, who turned the tables around. Eelco Schattorie was the name of the man- at the helm of the revolution.
He was showered with love and affection by the Highlanders, and the whole country stared at him with huge admiration. But there was one team- a struggling one; who were slowly and carefully analyzing him for their own good. One thing led to another and Mr. Schattorie was roped in by that same team, and it was none other than Kerala Blasters FC. The man who changed NEUFC’s fate was thrusted with a new responsibility- to return the passion and love of the football crazy people of God’s own country- Kerala! Eelco had a difficult yet arousing task at hand– turning the club’s fortunes around and winning them glory.
Being the manager of Kerala Blasters was never going to be a cakewalk. The mismanagement at the club led to the sacking of several coaches; with Blasters having more coaches than the number of seasons they have played. However, Eelco was still up to the challenge. The fans were excited. The arrival of Bartholomew Ogbeche along with the Dutchman meant, that the fans had a solid reason to be excited about. Then came the first match of the season. Kerala Blasters had beaten ATK, touted as one of the favourites, leading up to the season, and the fans were starting to believe that maybe the season was going to be a special one. But then, like the Domino Effect, everything started falling apart. What started as a poetry in motion, was turning into a collapsing house of cards. Kerala Blasters had another forgettable campaign and finished a disappointing 7th on the table.
What were the reasons behind this? What were the reasons Eelco failed this season? Buckle up as we dive deep into this unusual case study of the Dutch tactician.
Injuries to key players
Kerala blasters were possibly the unluckiest team in the league with respect to availability of the key players. 5 out of 8 foreigners had missed a minimum of 5 matches throughout the tournament, while the services of the leader of the team, Sandesh Jhingan, was lost right before the start of the tournament due to an unfortunate ACL injury. Jairo Rodrigues, Gianni Zuiverloon, Sergio Cidoncha, Mario Arques and Moustapha Gning- all were down with injuries, which eventually costed Kerala Blasters in the long run. Their replacements weren’t like-to-like as well. Bringing in Raju Gaikwad as Sandesh Jhingan’s replacement didn’t prove to be a wise decision and Gaikwad’s inclusion didn’t seal the cracks in the defense.
Rahul KP, who was looking good in the initial games, was also injured later and missed matches. Arjun Jayaraj, the attacking midfielder roped in from Gokulam Kerala, also got injured even before the season had begun. Eelco Schattorie had a lot of deal with even before the first whistle of the season, and these were the early red flags of a disappointing season.
Goalkeeping was a concern for Kerala Blasters in the 2018-19 season and continued to be one in the following season too. Eelco Schattorie brought TP Rehenesh from Northeast United along with him and signed Bilal Khan from Real Kashmir. However, this move didn’t pan out well as the Blasters ended up conceding the third-most goals among all the teams in the season.
Eelco Schattorie was always vocal about the fact that TP Rehenesh was his first-choice keeper, sometimes more than it was necessary. When Bilal Khan was guarding the poles in TP Rehenesh’ absence, Schattorie didn’t hold back his words and made it clear on Twitter that Rehenesh remained his first-choice keeper. This came across as insensitive to a lot of people and might have affected Bilal’s confidence on the pitch.
But even after Rehenesh’s return, Kerala Blasters kept conceding goals. It must be noted that that Rehenesh was the custodian for the Blasters against Chennaiyin FC where they were thrashed and conceded 6 goals. This concludes that Kerala Blasters lacked a solid goalkeeper who could minimise the immense number of goals scored against them.
Less chances created in midfield
Before moving ahead, let us first have a look at this this statistical observation.
playing style?@FCGoaOfficial is outlier here! High possession with high chance creation!@ATKFC , @bengalurufc and @ChennaiyinFC were not playing possession based football but created high number of chances pic.twitter.com/1lVfsTWbEr
— SMukherjee (@DrSutirthaM) April 1, 2020
This clearly shows that despite having the highest possession in the league, blasters created the least number of chances. Inspite of having Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli, two lethal strikers up front at their disposal, Blasters weren’t able to score as much as they would’ve expected and the blame is all for the misfiring midfield to accept. Players like Sahal Abdul Samad and Samuel Lalmuanpuia were heavily underutilized by the coach; especially, Sahal who had developed into into a local hero and a fan favourite by then.
Eelco Schattorie had said that he will make Sahal the best midfielder of India, but making him play an average of 44 minutes per match contradicts his statement. Somehow or the other, Sahal couldn’t adapt to Eelco’s style and was far from his best in whatever chances he got. This was one department where Kerala must have rued the unavailable Spaniards– Arques and Cidoncha, who could have made a significant difference in the midfield.
There were also some decisions by Eelco which some people might hail as “absurd”, which in turn might have affected their season too. Lalruatthara, who was the emerging player of the ISL in 2017-18, shockingly, didn’t find himself a spot in the team in majority of the season as opposed to previous ones. For a team whose defense was in tatters, a player like him could have steadied the ship.
The outspoken nature of the coach might not be a direct cause of their substandard performance, but it didn’t go down well with the fans of other clubs. Schattorie often disregarded his opponents and their coaches by saying that they were the team who played better and attractive football- most of which came after a loss. He considered his tactics better than the opponents on many occasions, which didn’t age too well for the Kochi-based club. Schattorie was never in the good books of the referees and the match commissioners as well. He was booked multiple times by the referees and on one occasion, even fined by the league after having a fight with Antonio López Habas, the manager of ATK, the ultimate winners.
There are rumours that Mohun Bagan’s title-winning coach Kibu Vicuna is set to be named as the new coach of Kerala Blasters. Though the management have their own set of reasons to sack Schattorie, the Dutchman has the backing of the fans who believe that he deserves another chance. It would be interesting to see how the next season would pan out for him if he’s given another chance. A redemption would make Schattorie a loved and renowned figure in the history of the club, but there also looms the threat of a mid-season sacking should things go wrong, once again!