It was a good point for us: Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic

Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic was satisfied with a point after his side were held to a 1-1 draw against Chennaiyin FC in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Chennai, on Monday.

Sahal Abdul Samad opened the account for Kerala Blasters FC as he calmly slotted home at the 23rd minute. However, Chennaiyin FC returned with a new spirit after half-time and the scored through former Blasters player Vincy Barretto, who equalised for the hosts in the 48th minute. KBFC are now unbeaten in six games and move to fourth place, level on points with Odisha FC.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Vukomanovic felt that his team were in control during the first half, but a tactical mistake cost them a goal in return. Vukomanovic stated that the game would have gone either way after his side conceded the goal, and in the end, he considered this draw as a vital one for their positive momentum.

Here are the excerpts from Vukomanovic:

What are your thoughts about the team's performance?

We knew before the game itself that Kerala Blasters FC coming to Chennai was never easy, speaking from the statistics of previous seasons. Not taking consideration last season because it was in a bubble where we had two victories, but. It's always nice to participate and play this kind of southern rivalry, which you guys know very well. It gives something extra from the physical side, from a motivational side and from the sociological side. If you want to achieve something in this kind of game, you have to be hundred percent ready. You have to be focused and concentrated in every second of the game. We arrived with an idea how we wanted to play, how we wanted to play offensively and defensively in possession and without the ball.

We started a little bit sloppy then we got back into the game in the first half. We got control of the game in most of the first half. We scored one goal from one nice moment. Then we wanted to stay well organised and then one tactical mistake was made in the beginning of the second half, which resulted in a goal. And then when you have this kind of game.. where both teams want to go for a victory, then It starts interesting. It can go both ways and then as a coach, you have to try to manage the things to manage the situation. Try to calm down your players and to stay organised, focus on exploring spaces and the things that you want to see them doing.

Then again, there were different moments where actually our opponent had a couple of moments where actually they could have done better. We had a couple of moments where we should have been more concentrated to finish the action and then in the end, when you look at the score, like both teams can live with it. For us, it was important to continue in a positive flow after five victories back to back. We wanted to stay in a positive (mindset), which is very important in this league.

Seeing our experience, I can speak only about last season. Many teams in December and first half of January actually start casually and drop points, losing games and it is the most crucial part of the season where actually you as a team want to stay focused and concentrating and especially to stay in a positive line of results. For us, it was important not to lose again. Of course, there was a moment that we were actually thinking there is something more. But at the end, for a clear mindset for a positive flow of the next weeks, it's a good point for us. I think for the other side, our opponents are fighting to enter the top six. With such a club, you must always hope to be there and of course with everything going all around we want to continue the same way because we have some very tough games ahead of us. Especially playing two games in a row at home we have to be ready to play those games, trying to collect more points in order to have more security being among the best because our objective is to end up in the top six and qualify for the playoffs.

There were two chances for the team, which were not capitalised, what are your thoughts on that?

During the training sessions, the preparation ahead of the game, there are many things (taken into consideration) how you want to build up from the goalkeeper, from the last line throughout the midfield and everything to get in and the last third of the pitch where actually the players (will score). When you create these overlaps, overloads and everything, you create situations where the players are in a position to score goals, then it goes about decision making, its individual decision-making, where the players facing these moments, they have to decide for themselves.

Whether they're going to dribble or take a shot, it goes about adrenaline pumping in your veins. You are tired and there are many other aspects in your head at that moment where you actually have to make the right decision. Sometimes it's not the right decision. We can see worldwide in every football game around the world. You see those moments players coming in the moments. Then trying to get something more or shooting in the moment where they don't have to, they are not supposed to shoot.

So these things are up to individual quality and decision making in this part so I can never be angry with those things because it's up to them to decide. We call the decision to do so later when you analyse, when you talk to players, you try to point out certain things and if it happens again, they can make a better decision in order to score goals.

How crucial is it to have fans in an away game like this?

It is absolutely marvellous to have the kind of fans who are supporting us home and away games because this is part of football. In my understanding, we play football for the fans because if there are no fans why should you do it? This is a kind of a full and complete puzzle that without fans it is not the same. Coming back to the last season, it was awful. It was really not nice. Sitting there just being like in kind of a theatre playing and without fans it's nothing. So whenever we come to a stadium, whether it's at home or away seeing our fans and opposite fans, this is kind of a rivalry also in the south between Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC, it was really nice to see them. To hear them supporting us. They are marvellous, so big thanks to all of them who arrived today to support us. We will see them next week in Kochi and for the next two games.

What is your assessment of the team after 10 games?

Well, there are many aspects. We as Kerala Blasters FC can never organise and behave like some other clubs who have bigger budgets, who can afford to buy and do whatever they want. We are a club with a vision and an idea, always having some youngsters coming into the first team, trying to develop them and giving them chances in the first team. Because it’s not only the future of our club, but also the future of Indian football. This is very important for us. 

Since I arrived here last season and if we compare it with the previous seasons..(we are in a better situation). Now at this moment, all the teams have played 10 games and that’s half (the season) and if I have to do an evaluation, this is where we are now - we have 19 points, six victories, one draw, and three defeats. In the previous season (2020-21), Kerala Blasters FC had won 17 points in the whole season.

Last season, we had nearly the same points (as this season) and this season, we are there again. For us, it is a good achievement but we have great ambition, objective, vision and this is how we want to be. Last season, as I mentioned earlier, we wanted to be a team and a club that is tough to beat, (a club) that will always play among the best and fight to be high up the rankings for the (League Winners’) Shield, the Hero ISL trophy, and everything else because this is what we want. This is what we are building up for in the previous one-and-a-half years.

We are happy with the achievements, there were many youngsters going up the ranks. Even today, the goalscorer for Chennaiyin FC (Barretto), he is coming from Kerala Blasters FC. We are taking these kinds of things into consideration. We cannot say, “we have to be reasonable”. We have to be responsible so we can afford to spend what we have. So we cannot afford to buy whoever we want. That is easy.

We have a vision, we have a way that we want to work and with that approach, with the players that we have and the foreigners that we try to scout and bring good human beings who can bring something extra (to the team) as a person. They can be the right example for the young and domestic players showing how things have to be done. With the youngsters and the domestic players again, (make sure we nurture) good humans who will develop themselves as great players and then everybody will benefit. Not only us, but Indian football too. This is our vision.

So far, with 19 points after 10 games, we are happy. We have to continue because we have 10 games to go. Last season, it was quite the same. In the same period, we had five-six games with positive results. I think we had 10-12 games without a defeat. December to January are the crucial months where you have to try to stay organised, collecting points if you want to be there (in contention for playoffs). Then later on, if you reach there, everything is possible and we showed that last season. Nobody expected us to reach the final.

With our vision and positive mindset, with the way we work, we hope that we can be there again and this is what we want to build up as a club. We want to leave a legacy where Kerala Blasters FC will participate every season and be among the best. This is what we want to have. Everybody can say that Kerala Blasters FC are consistent and they can be in the playoffs for the second season in a row. Before that was not the case. This is our idea and now after the halfway stage of the season, we are where we are. We are among the top six and we hope that we can continue with positive results, building up, becoming strong and trying to reach the playoffs.

You have formed your ideal starting eleven. At what point do you think about settling with this eleven and will there be changes?

There are many things. When you win a couple of games in a row with the same team, there is fatigue, tiredness and you have this feeling where you kind of enter the comfort zone where players can become a little bit casual and as a coach, you have to recognise those moments and then maybe change something. We are having these positive results at the moment, but it doesn’t mean that we will see the same starting eleven in the coming weeks. There can always be changes. We have a great squad and everybody can play. And whoever is on the pitch, they will do their job.

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