Kerala Blasters appoint Kibu Vicuna as new head coach

Two-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) finalists Kerala Blasters FC have roped in former Mohun Bagan boss Kibu Vicuna as the team's new head coach for the upcoming season, the Kochi-based club announced on Wednesday. Vicuna was in charge of Mohun Bagan last season and led them to the Hero I-League 2019-20 trophy in a campaign which was cut short due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

He takes over the reins of the team from former head coach Eelco Schattorie, who helmed the team in Hero ISL 2019-20. Kerala announced Schattorie’s departure from the club earlier in the day.

Vicuna started coaching at a very young age, managing teams at school and university levels while he was still a player. His professional managerial career started in 2002 when he took over the youth setup of La Liga outfit Osasuna. During his time here, he played a role in moulding current Chelsea superstar and Spanish international Cesar Azpilicueta, who was in the club's youth system back then.

He then garnered some senior team experience working as assistant coach under Jan Urban at Osasuna and went on to manage several top clubs in Poland like Legia Warsaw, Zaglebie Lubin, Lech Poznan, etc. After a couple of stints as the manager of Lithuanian club FK Riteriai and Polish side Wisla Plock, Vicuna arrived in India to take over the reins of Mohun Bagan.

Despite a slow start to his life with the Mariners, the 48-year-old galvanized the Mohun Bagan team just at the right in time and helped the team mathematically secure the trophy even before the league was halted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Under Vicuna, the Mariners picked up 39 points from 16 matches, scoring 35 goals and conceding just 13 – best offensive and defensive tallies in the Hero I-League 2019-20.

Having failed to finish into the top four in the previous three seasons of Hero ISL, Kerala are looking to turn a corner and head coach Vicuna, along with Sporting Director Karolis Skinkys, are expected to play a major role in the overhaul.

With Mohun Bagan set to merge with ATK and play in Hero ISL 2020-21 as a unified unit, the move will also add a new dimension to the traditional ATK-Kerala rivalry which has been one of the biggest draws in Hero ISL since its inception.

“I am very happy to join Kerala Blasters. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to train one of the best teams of the Hero ISL. It is also a very exciting challenge. We (coaching staff and players) are going to do our best in order to play a good style of football and get the best results. Our objective is to make the ever energetic and supportive fans of Kerala Blasters, proud of our team," said Vicuna after formalizing the move.

"On behalf of the club, I’d like to congratulate and extend a very warm welcome to Kibu on joining Kerala Blasters. Kibu is a great professional and an amazing person too. I'm sure, we can do a successful job together and help the club achieve the set objectives for the future and grow to greater heights," commented Skinkys.

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