When Manuel Marquez met Ivan Vukomanovic: Mutual admiration aplenty ahead of the big final
For Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters FC, there’s nothing bigger than the game ahead of them. Pretty much the envy of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), the two teams will clash in the final for the ultimate prize on Sunday.
The Hero ISL trophy is the ultimate prize in Indian football, but for Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters FC, there’s more riding on it.
Hero ISL 2021-22 Final Preview: Hyderabad FC and Kerala Blasters FC face off in a stellar clash for title
Hyderabad FC, still relative newcomers to the Hero ISL, have the chance to win the big prize in just their third season in the Indian top-flight. Apart from that, the Manuel Marquez-led side have a chance to complete a cycle that they started two years ago when the Spaniard took charge.
Placing faith on Indian youngsters and making them into big names in Indian football, Hyderabad FC have a story deserving of a happy end.
But at the other spectrum, are Kerala Blasters FC. A club full of colour which is largely contributed by its passionate fans who have given their heart and soul to the club.
They over the years have had a much greater share of heartbreaks that joys in their brief history, but the Blasters fans have trodden on in hope of the big day.
That day may come on Sunday and the Kerala Blasters FC fans will hope that after two Hero ISL final defeats and many underwhelming campaigns in the past, it’s their time to bask in the glory at last.
At the heart of these dreams are two head coaches who have well and truly led from the front. Marquez has given Hyderabad FC an identity of its own, while Ivan Vukomanovic has added much-needed structure and manner to the chaos that the Kerala Blasters FC have been in past seasons.
Sunday may seem like the culmination of their respective journeys in Indian football, but when the two coaches caught up with the Hero ISL Media team for an interview ahead of the final, the calmness in their veins was a refreshing sight.
The two head coaches at different junctures of the respective processes that they initiated at their clubs spoke about the larger scheme of things in which the final was not the ultimate but just one of the very important steps.
“We keep it going like we were doing before with maybe a slightly different approach and talk (for the final). But you know, you want to do things a certain way, you want to try to play a good game to stay positive and hope for the best,” Vukomanovic said during the joint interview with the two coaches.
“The key part of our job and final objective is that the national team should profit and that the players become better and then later on become key players of their own teams in ISL and national team,” he added.
Marquez however felt that he would be lying if he felt that the preparation for the final was the same as any previous game but also talked about restoring Hyderabad FC’s stature in Indian football.
“Hyderabad is trying to grow. I know that 50 or 60 years ago, there was a very strong side in the city (Hyderabad City Police) with a lot of players in the national team. But in the last ten years or so there hasn’t been a football team in the city. Our owner is trying to recover for Hyderabad, these are the things that happened a long time ago,” Marquez said.
The Hyderabad FC head coach likened Kerala Blasters FC to his team of last season that just finished short of the semi-final places and heaped praise on his opposite number for helping the team get over the line and making the top four in his very first year as head coach.
“I think in my opinion, Ivan is the best coach in the league in terms of managing the team. I don't have any doubt about this,” Marquez said.
“Usually, I say that one normal player with confidence is better than one very good player without and I think that in Kerala Blasters FC, of course they are good players but even players with less experience have done well. I think that’s Ivan’s biggest credit.
These foreigners are very positive leaders in the (Kerala Blasters FC) team but the great leader in Kerala Blasters FC is the coach,” he added.
Vukomanovic returned the favour and revealed how he cited Hyderabad FC’s example as he explained his vision to the Kerala Blasters FC board.
“I remember telling my technical director in December that Hyderabad FC are top because of the consistency they have, the great mix of experience and youngsters, especially experienced foreign players and younger domestic players who are eager and hungry for success. That's what gives you great results,” Vukomanovic said.
“Seeing that the mentality and the approach of coach Manuel which is helping create new young players, with in combination with experienced players, is having such a great impact. As a young coach, you can only learn from such a great coach,” he added.
Come Sunday, the mutual admiration will have to give way to a competitive edge as the two coaches look to mastermind their respective sides to a Hero ISL title. But given the strength of their footballing brains, a classic is surely on the cards.