Schattorie: Other teams should be scared of playing against Kerala

Eelco Schattorie is determined to return Kerala Blasters FC to their glory days and the first order of business for the Dutchman is to bring the fear-factor back at Kochi - something which seems to have gone missing from the famed Yellow fortress over the last two seasons.

The first three editions of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) saw Kerala Blasters reach the final twice - in 2014 and then again in 2016. Despite having lost both the finales, the Blasters firmly established themselves as one of the most feared teams in the league, largely due to their phenomenal record at home. The 2014 season saw Kerala win 4, draw 3 and lose just once on home soil, while in 2016, they won 6, drew 1 and lost 1 at Kochi, barring the final which they lost to ATK on penalties. Even in the nightmarish 2015 campaign, which saw them finish bottom of the league with 13 points from 16 matches, 8 of these 13 were secured at home.

The Blasters boasted a phenomenal home record, particularly in Season 1 and 3.

The last two seasons, however, have seen the narrative change quite a bit. In the 18 matches Kerala have played at home in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, they have won just 3, lost 5 and drawn a whopping 10. Last season was particularly bad, with just a single win coming in front of their home fans.

With the 2019-20 season fast approaching, Kerala have roped in former NorthEast United FC head coach Eelco Schattorie, who led the Highlanders to their first-ever Hero ISL semifinal last season, to arrest the rot. Known for his tactical and statistical acumen, the Dutchman seems to have already identified the concern and intends to mend the crumbling fortress with utmost urgency in a bid to return it to its former glory. In an interview after taking charge of Kerala, he stated, "I am very humbled and happy to be here. It’s a beautiful state, the symbol of the team is a big elephant, which shows strength and I hope we can transform that ideal into the team. (We need to ensure that) the teams that come here are scared to play here. We need to play a brand of football that the supporters will enjoy and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen."

The Kerala management, too, seems eager to implement to new head coach's vision and has been busy in the transfer market, roping in some big names like Bartholomew Ogbeche, Sergio Cidoncha and Mario Arques to shore up the offensive front. Parallelly, there's also a focus on bringing in some talented youngsters like Rahul KP, Zayed Bin Waleed, etc to the fold signalling at Schattorie's aim to build for the future.

The Dutchman, who has a proven track record of developing young players, hinted that the young guns may have a significant role in his regime. "Anywhere I work, I believe in working with young players. That also means they need to show the quality to be in the first team. Fresh blood is always important in the team. I don’t look at how old somebody is. If you’re good, you’re good. Kerala have one really nice player that I didn’t work with yet, but I followed him last year. He is Sahal Abdul Samad. He has good potential and I hope we can find more type of these players," he said.

Schattorie wants more youngsters to replicate Sahal’s meteoric rise from last season.

Integral to Schattorie’s plans, will be the passionate home support, which is often regarded as the team’s 12th man and lifeline. The 47-year-old stressed the importance of providing the fans with a style of play they can get behind and said, "It’s a big honour. I think that, in India, Kerala are one of the teams that have a huge fan base which lives and breathes football. It's an honour to be here. As a coach, you always want to work at a club that breathes football. If you work at a club where there is less support, you can still do a good job. But Kerala is one of the temples in India where football is loved. You can see that from the number of supporters who come to the games. Football is played for the supporters. That is also one of my goals, to bring a good football team playing attractive football to Kerala."

Expanding on his ambitions with the Blasters, Schattorie added, "We will go for the top position, but at the same time, you never know. It is very difficult. There are 10 teams who will say the same. The goal is to reach that point. I like to play a brand of attacking football which is based on a progressive philosophy. That is the main goal, to bring a more attractive style of playing football and reaching the pinnacle of the Hero ISL."

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