Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic expressed happiness as he is set to return to the dugout after serving his suspension when the Yellow Army host Odisha FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi on Friday. 

The Serbian will be on the sidelines for the first time this season after assistant head coach Frank Dauwen took charge of the team in his absence in the season so far. 

The Kerala Blasters FC fans are expected to welcome him with a warm reception on Friday and Vukomanovic believes it’s a special feeling to walk out the stadium in Kochi with the fans cheering for the team. 

“It will be a pleasure to be back,” Vukomanovic said at the pre-match press conference on Thursday. 

“It's been a while and I can't wait to be back. I'm the happiest when I am with the team on the field because it gives me energy and the moment, here in this stadium, is something special,” he added. 

The Serbian who is into his third season as the head coach of Kerala Blasters FC is loved by the fans and reiterated that he will always fight for the interests of the team.

“For all those months, I would personally like to thank them (fans) for all the support, all the messages,” he said. 

“I will always be there for them, for the team to protect the interests of our team and of course, we will always try to manage to give everything on this pitch, to fight for the badge, to fight for them (fans), because that's how it is as we play football for the fans,” he added. 

Vukomanovic feels his team have done well in his absence but are still not at their best level. 

“You always want the team to play with consistency, with power, with everything, so, it was a pleasure. Some of them (players) showed more than we expected,” he said. 

“All the teams in the league are still in the moment of searching for the best momentum. I think somewhere halfway through the league, the teams get in shape and in the second part, you see the teams performing at the highest level. So far, we are okay. We are trying to avoid injuries, to modify things,” he added. 

The Serbian expects a tough match against Odisha FC on Friday, but the team will be confident having won eight out of their last ten home matches. 

“Since we arrived here more than two years ago, there hasn't been a single game where we haven't had to fight for every point. So, against Odisha FC who have a good team and good individuals, it will be the same. Nothing different,” he said. 

“Of course, in this kind of stadium and environment, with the atmosphere, the players enjoy it, they give everything they have. Of course, I hope to see a good game on Friday,” he added. 

The head coach also confirmed that defender Marco Leskovic will miss the game due to injury but will be available for their next encounter against East Bengal FC in Kolkata. While Aiban Dohling who has had surgery and midfielder Jeakson Singh who is set to undergo treatment in the coming weeks will also miss the game. 

A lifetime memory for me: Danish Farooq

Kerala Blasters FC midfielder Danish Farooq has scored the club’s previous two goals but cherishes the one he scored in front of the home fans the most. 

“It feels amazing every time you score any goal. It's more special when you score our stadium in front of so many fans. It's a lifetime memory for me,” he said at the pre-match press conference. 

“I've been a Cristiano Ronaldo fan since my childhood, so that's why I did the celebration and I hope there will be many of those in the stadium,” he added, speaking about his celebration in the previous match. 

However, Farooq values consistent contribution to his team throughout the 90 minutes higher than his goals and wants to keep working for the side. 

“I always work hard and I believe it's not always about scoring a goal but how you fight for every ball and fight for the 90 minutes,” he said. 

“I think that's more important. I try to be humble every time and stick to whatever the coach has said. I hope to give my best and put on a good show,” he concluded.