Can Ivan Vukomanovic’s Kerala Blasters FC marry talent and energy with consistency?
Kerala Blasters FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) are synonymous with passion and brilliance. But they can also be closely associated with inconsistency and irregularities in performance.
They are one of only three teams to reach three Hero ISL finals, but they are also the side that has never made the competition's knockout stages in two consecutive seasons.
Success has almost always been followed by failure in Kochi, and this trend has often irked the club’s passionate supporters.
With Ivan Vukomanovic at the helm, a head coach that led Kerala Blasters FC to the final in Hero ISL 2021-22 season, there is renewed hope that the good days are back again for the yellow army. But there is also the fear of history repeating itself and the Blasters failing to build on last season’s success.
Vukomanovic’s side have started the season winning four out of their first seven matches while losing the other three. This inconsistency is what typifies Kerala Blasters FC. They are great on their day and rather disappointing when things don’t go as per plan.
However, recent results that has seen the Kerala Blasters FC win three straight matches in a row for the first time in their history has provided the fans with some optimism. It feels that the Blasters may have turned a corner and may finally be about to transition into ruthless, serial winners that win a lot more matches than they don’t and almost always challenge for top honours.
The KBFC faithful have always craved such an outfit to don their beloved yellow and blue jersey, and it seems that their current team that is already on the longest winning run in the club’s history is that team.
The challenge now for this Blasters side would be to deliver when they are expected to win, a task they haven’t consistently achieved. But in Vukomanovic, they have a leader who has already broken a precedent by becoming the first KBFC head coach to manage the team for a second successive season.
"ഇത്രയും വലിയ ക്ലബ്ബിന്റെ ഭാഗമാകുന്നത് വിശിഷ്ടമാണ്."— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) December 2, 2022
Ivan Vukomanovic loves the Manjappada and everything about the Kerala Blasters! 💛
Watch the full #LetsFootballLive show 👉 https://t.co/1CQMecrxNk#HeroISL #LetsFootball #KeralaBlasters #IvanVukomanovic pic.twitter.com/g90tBrYHE0
“You have to evolve as a football club. You have to evolve with the way that you play, the style and the patterns you play. I think Vukomanovic has tweaked that slightly this year and I say that because we don't see Adrian Luna just sticking out on the left all the time, we see him play more as a centre forward and get involved more and causing all sorts of problems. He knows how to get the best out of his players,” comments Paul Masefield, Hero ISL commentator and expert.
“When results have not gone your way, that's the opportunity for the coach to make the changes because you haven't had the results. He made the changes and since then they have been on a positive streak and look a little bit more balanced than they were earlier on in the season. He is a very intelligent coach and I like the way he approaches the game and I would like Kerala Blasters FC to win a few games on the trot,” Masefield adds.
Vukomanovic’s Blasters have had an abundance of attacking talent at their disposal, with the likes of Adrian Luna, Sahal Abdul Samad and Rahul KP all making their presence felt at different points in his tenure. Alvaro Vazquez and Jorge Pereyra Diaz also dazzled last season before moving on, but their replacements, Dimitri Diamantakos and Ivan Kaliuzhnyi, have started well in the Hero ISL.
The yellow army has also displayed the kind of pragmatism to go with all the flair that has made them a difficult opposition to predict for opponent coaches. This unpredictability, coupled with Vukomanovic’s ability to get the players to give their all for him, has made Blasters a force to be reckoned with.
But the challenge facing them is enormous as the teams battling at the top end of the table don’t give much away. The Blasters, who have never stitched more than three wins together on the spin, need to cut down their slip-ups and marry the flair and energy of their team with consistency.
“The victory against Hyderabad FC was very professional. The myth that Kerala Blasters FC struggled in front of the fanatical Manjappada was laid to rest with that emphatic win over FC Goa and as it was sandwiched between successes on the road at Guwahati and Hyderabad. So, there is more self-belief running through the veins of the Kerala Blasters FC players,” said John Helm, Hero ISL commentator and expert notes.
“The upcoming fixtures don't look daunting at all. So this is a real chance to make a statement of intent in the coming weeks,” he adds.
Kerala Blasters FC take on Jamshedpur FC on Sunday, who have lost their last four matches and have picked up one win all season before facing Bengaluru FC, who are yet to find their feet. They then travel for a clash against Chennaiyin FC that are below them in the table, before they end the month with a crunch game against Odisha FC at home on December 26.
The yellow army has a real chance to go on a winning run that could catapult them among the very elite of the league and put them in contention for the League Winners’ Shield.
While the results on the road have been above average, their home form has always been a cause for concern for the Blasters. If they can learn to harness their fans’ energy, it could go a long way in making Kerala Blasters FC a consistent outfit.
“The challenge for Kerala Blasters FC will and always will be that can they be consistent at home? They seemed to have turned a corner in terms of allowing the opponents opportunities. They need to continue to be hard to beat. Their shape in defensive transition has been brilliant and they are taking their chances at the other end. It's as simple as that for Kerala. Remain hard to beat particularly at home,” says Erik Paartalu who was part of the Bengaluru FC side that twice finished top of the pile in Hero ISL 2017-18 and 2018-19. Paartalu’s BFC heavily relied on their form at home to gain an edge on their opponents in the title race and feels the Blasters have the potential to do the same.
However, Kerala Blasters FC’s bid to become a team that not just wins football matches but wins them consistently continues on the road as they seek their fourth straight win in Hero ISL 2022-23. A win could lift them to within six points of leaders Mumbai City FC with a game in hand, allowing them to have enough confidence in the bag to handle the pressure at home when rivals Bengaluru FC come calling later this month.
Kerala Blasters FC are at crossroads. Will we see them embark on a new journey of consistent success, or will the failings of the past come back to haunt them again? The eleven men in yellow that step out on the field on Sunday will have the answer.