Kerala Blasters FC have made a brilliant start to the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-24 season and find themselves in the second spot in the table after winning five of their opening seven matches. 

The Blasters have become used to being at the upper end of the standings after they qualified for the playoffs for two straight seasons running in 2021-22 and 2022-23. 

It would be fair to say that the Yellow Army are enjoying their most successful spell in their ISL journey and the man behind that is Serbian head coach Ivan Vukomanovic. 

Under his guidance, the Blasters have won 27 out of the 50 ISL matches. So, 48% of their total wins in ISL history have come under the Serbian who has managed only 29% of the total matches the team have played in the league. 

His impact on Kerala Blasters FC has been incredible and they have now become one of the most consistent teams in the league. 

Vukomanovic sat down for an interview with and spoke about their start to the new season, the team’s recruitment policy, his vision for the future and his thoughts on Kerala’s love for football.

Here are the excerpts:

What are your thoughts and feelings about your start to the season?

There have been many changes (to the squad) compared to the last season. In the first couple of games, we started only with two players in a starting eleven from last season – Adrian Luna and Jeakson Singh. Many of them (players) arrived late (for pre-season) and we had to correct the shape (of the team). So far, we haven't trained with the full squad — never, not once. Yet, we managed to win the games even without me being on the bench because we were concentrating more on collecting those points without looking at everything else.

We have some players who can make a difference, especially playing in front of our fans in Kochi. And with that energy from the stands, with the fans and the atmosphere that they create in our stadium, it gives more power to our players, especially playing at home. And in that environment, you want to give even more than what you can. And it has resulted in (our) victories.

As a coach what is your approach when you face such adversities?

There is one thing in a coaching job: whatever you plan, whatever you prepare, the moment you wake up in the morning, you must know that something will not go according to the plan. That's the truth. And then you have to be capable of modifying and improvising, and that's what we've been doing, especially in the last couple of games where many young players had to step up and show their quality. And I'm happy as a coach because that is also the vision of the club.

Can you tell us a bit about Kerala Blasters FC’s recruitment strategy since you took over?

Kerala Blasters FC is a special club in a special environment. If you want to play for Kerala Blasters FC, you must have that kind of character and mentality that gives you something spicy and special. 

You can take many domestic players in the ISL. They can play and perform well in some other clubs, but they can never play that well in Kerala Blasters FC because Kerala Blasters FC need that special vibe and character for performing in front of our stadium and having these expectations on your shoulders.

For example, Pritam Kotal and Prabir Das. We wanted to acquire them even the year before. These are the players who have that spicy thing to bring something to Kerala Blasters FC because their character, their motivation, and their dedication to the team are great. That's how you have to be if you want to play for the Kerala Blasters FC.

With our foreigners too, since we arrived, we wanted to bring players who will be committed to staying for the long term and also players who can grow up with the club together. 

You have many local players playing for Kerala Blasters FC. What is your feeling about achieving this?

Kerala is full of talent and potential. The vision of the club was to invest in and produce these young players because you are giving something back to your community. 

Kerala deserves to have these players representing (the state) because it gives you a special feeling and gives you the identity of your club. The population and the fans identify with that. As a coach, I will never be afraid to give a chance to these boys. I hope these boys will grow up to become an important part of the Kerala Blasters FC and hopefully national teams as well.

I hope these boys will continue working hard. They have to stay humble with their feet on the ground because it's only a couple of games that they played. Football is hard work. They have to continue if they want to become better.

Sachin Suresh has been exceptional in goal for Kerala Blasters FC. Many fans didn’t believe he would be able to cope with the pressure of being the No 1 goalkeeper. What made you trust him?

In our first season, when our ex-goalkeeper Albino (Gomes) got injured and when we promoted Prabhsukhan Singh Gill to become the first goalkeeper, there were many question marks.

But our goalkeeper coach did a great job, making Prabhsukhan Singh Gill the Golden Glove winner of the ISL. 

Now in this season, our goalkeeper coach also recognised and advised that it might be a good moment if one more keeper will become and grow up to become an important part. This was the time to promote him (Sachin), and that was our decision in the end. As a head coach, you have to make decisions. We were never doubting (him).

One thing that has definitely changed in your tenure is the home form. There has been a significant increase in Kerala Blasters FC’s win% at home since you took over. How did you turn that around?

When I was first researching about Kerala Blasters FC, I had this 'wow effect' seeing the crowd. I felt this crowd and this stadium must bring you that extra power in home games. And I had this question mark as to why has this not happened. 

So we wanted players who will play with heart and soul which will be appreciated by emotional fans like that of Kerala Blasters FC and there will be a two-way connection with which we can achieve results. 

On the tactical side, we have played with different strategies in different home games. We want to be unpredictable at home. And then when you fly out with that intensity with the fans behind you, it becomes difficult to play against. 

There are many teams like these around the world where opponent teams feel it will be tough going to their home and they will have to work twice to achieve something. As a coaching staff, we wanted to implement those things into our team by having correct profiles of players and having the correct character and mentality to play in that kind of environment. 

Our home ground is something special and priceless that we have and we wanted to use it to our advantage. 

SPECIAL FEATURE: Home discomfort to home delight: Kerala Blasters FC have made Kochi a fortress

Which teams according to you will be the biggest challengers for your team for the ISL Shield? 

I think that the teams that we will see at the top for the playoffs will be FC Goa, Mohun Bagan SG, Mumbai City FC, and Odisha FC. These four, I'd say will be on top.

I think these four teams have a good squad, they have good coaches and experience. They know how to collect points or how to win games. Let's hope that we will be there among them on the top and fighting for it.

Kerala Blasters FC have got really close on three occasions but never won the ISL Cup or the Shield. There is an obsession to win the silverware among the fans. What is your take on these emotions?

Everybody in ISL wants to win the trophy. The fact that we dream about it, that we want it, and that we work hard for it is something that gives us enormous motivation together with our fans. That army of fans deserves to have that possibility every season.

We have to accept that we are working and doing our best. And I would give everything for that emotion to feel that in our stadium, to feel that in Kochi. I hope that the day will come because I will do anything for it.