Coppell apologises to Kerala fans after defeat to ATK in final
Kerala Blasters FC suffered a big heartbreak in a 4-3 defeat on penalties by Atlético de Kolkata in the 2016 Hero Indian Super League final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday evening. The match ended 1-1 in normal time thanks to first half headers from Mohammed Rafi (Kerala) in the 37th minute and Henrique Sereno (Kolkata) in the 44th minute. With neither side managing to get their noses in front in extra-time, Jewel Raja scored the winning penalty in the shootout to give ATK their second Hero ISL title in three years.
Speaking to the media at the post-match press conference, Kerala head coach Steve Coppell expressed his frustration at the scheduling in the lead-up to the grand finale. “We didn’t lose, we drew the game. We lost the league on penalties, it’s cool and I would like to congratulate Kolkata and the game tonight was even and anybody could have won, and two very tired teams [played today]. And from our point of view we played three games in seven days and we had to travel to Delhi when we shouldn’t have had to travel to Delhi and I don’t want to sound like sour grapes because Kolkata have won it,” the Englishman said.
He continued: “But we should have not had to travel to Delhi and after the game in Delhi we could not get any flights to fly out of Delhi and we had to stay in Delhi for a day and the next day we had to fly back to Kochi and we had to split the team in five different groups and the players started flying back at 5 o’clock in the morning and the last players got to the hotel at 8 o’clock at night. [Having all that in mind] I thought my players were fantastic and I can only compliment them on giving so much of themselves tonight and throughout the league and the Kerala fans made the occasion and on behalf of the players and the support staff I would like to say thank you to the fans and sorry that we could not bring the trophy but it was a great experience.”
Kerala’s marquee man Aaron Hughes was replaced by Elhadji Ndoye in the first half after picking up an injury. Commenting on the impact the Northern Ireland international’s early withdrawal had on Kerala’s game, Coppell said: “First and foremost, we knew we were taking a calculated risk with Aaron Hughes and he was having trouble from Delhi and it was not an ideal situation. I forced him to start and if it was an ordinary game he would have not played. From the first minute, he was struggling a bit and I made the decision to make a change and I think there weren’t many chances created and I think that is because both teams have played so many games in the last seven- eight days and the heat here was very draining, so going forward there should be a bigger gap between the final and the semi-final, and put the final on the pedestal it deserves. The teams have played 14 weeks to get here, so give them a chance to field their strongest team rather than patch-work.”
Coppell also rued the lack of the depth in his squad that came to the surface in the final as the Blasters found it difficult to cope with the absence of Josu Currais, who was serving an automatic suspension on account of yellow card accumulation. “I have said from day one that the squad wasn’t balanced but I think we did great to adapt to the situation and Josu played as left-back and adapted and we missed him tonight and I think Ishfaq [Ahmed] did a tremendous job. The next time the squad will be more balanced and Kolkata made nine changes and I don’t think any other team in the league would have made so many changes and they delivered in a hostile atmosphere in Mumbai, so again you will probably argue that they have a deeper squad,” he said.
When asked if he plans to return to the dugout with Kerala next season, Coppell said: “Well I think when you are feeling so bad after the result it is the wrong time to talk about it and I want to go home and see my mom as she is a lady of a certain age and then I will speak with the owners and see what their plans are and there is a lot to be done at this club to reward the supporters with the right set-up, so you know we have discussed it, the future, not just my future but the future of the club going forward and I am sure that the ownership will make sure that the club is better prepared going forward. It does not guarantee that they will be successful but lessons learnt from this season will be carried forward.”