Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic said he is privileged to have been able to coach a huge club like KBFC with one of the best fan bases in the country. He further backed his team to come good in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 season ahead of their home clash against Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, in Kochi, on Friday.

Vukomanovic was accompanied by star midfielder Adrian Luna in the official pre-match press conference ahead of KBFC’s home match against Mumbai City FC. The KBFC head coach spoke about his side’s performance this season, dealing with pressure, and more.

Here are the excerpts from Vukomanovic’s press conference:

I wanted to ask you about the intensity of the players from the last game. Do you think they lacked anything or were not urgent enough? If so, how are you looking to fix that?

That is actually the easiest part in football, to fix the character and mentality of the players. It is true that we are not happy with the performances so far, but there are many games in the league to fight for every ball and duel, win every second ball because we want to create situations with more intensity and I want my players to respond. So, for Friday’s game we have to be on the very top and hope to see our boys play responsibly.

We started the last game on a great note, and the opposition team (Odisha FC) imposed its tactics where we had to respond and unfortunately the opponents were more aggressive which made the difference. But, the good thing is we recognised the mistakes, worked on it and will try to improve it in the next game.

In the match against Odisha FC, the start was great. But, what went wrong in the second half?

In the beginning of the second half, there was a lack of concentration as it was mentioned during half-time because some of the games in Hero ISL are not about beautiful football, many games are about showing the spirit and ability to fight and win the duels, second balls. These are the things that make the difference in football, if you are not ready to respond then you might lose the game.

Your side plays an attacking style of football. Do you think that affects the game plan in any way?

Before the last game, we knew that our opponent would like us to come higher up the pitch which was the same case in the first half when their defenders stayed on the ball and pressed us up the pitch to stretch us wide and allow their forwards and midfielders to create space for scoring goals, which we did not want to do, certainly. It was all about tactical approach.

This season, the games are about finding a weakness in the opponent like in the last season where everybody wanted to see how the other teams were performing. We must avoid making the same mistakes and keep improving while being tactically strong.

Last season Kerala Blasters FC came as runners up having lost four games in total. The Hero ISL is a short league compared to the European leagues where there is time to make up for the losses and games. How important do you think it is for your team to not get into the habit of dropping points, losing games and getting back to winning ways?

My team is competing in a professional sport. In any league the need to get the winning mentality, the positive attitude is very important especially for the team which is carrying the expectations of one of the best fans in the world. As a team we want to instil that for this season like we managed during the last season. The pressure is higher this season since we will be playing in front of the fans, unlike last season where it was behind closed doors.

We want to keep that level of competitiveness against every team in the league, we want to have that mindset and go for the three points. Kerala Blasters FC will not change.

Mumbai City FC are coming into the game on the back of one win and two draws, and are unbeaten. What is your view towards your opponent?

Mumbai City FC are always one of the top teams in the league who are title contenders come every season. They have a clear point of view and want to win every game. We are a team who want to keep battling with the elites of the competition, but in professional sport there are details which one has to always keep into consideration. During the last season, we managed to play two quality games against them which is history and it is nice to talk about that, but we need to keep working hard and look forward to staying in the present moment which is the most important thing.

Do you feel any pressure to reconsider your strategies after the first three matches?

In the last season or even since we have started the current season of Hero ISL, I do not let the pressure play a part in my life or in football. I consider it more as a pleasure to have been working with a club with such admiration towards the game. In every quality sport, the players need to learn and embrace the pressure and cherish the moments because they work hard to get where they are. It is a God’s gift to be able to play the game we love. So, the pressure should not take us away from enjoying the moments rather the players should feel privileged.

How do you rate the link-up play between Adrian Luna and the new players at Kerala Blasters FC?

Watching the boys come to training with a smile and spend the time together be it on the field or behind the scenes, it makes me proud. Even while scouting or signing new players, I want them to be better human beings first so the atmosphere at the club always remains positive. They acquire an abundance of talent and qualities, of course. As their coach, I am glad to be the one to lead such a nice group of players.

What is the team news and availability ahead of the game on Friday? Are there any injury concerns?

Ayush Adhikari and Apostolos Giannou got on the training pitch recently, they are a part of the team and we have a full squad available. We had 23 players on the training pitch and will decide the team selection based on that. It is a luxurious problem for us, the kind of headache I am happy to have.

Kerala Blasters had a great start, but the last two matches give an impression of the team not getting rid of the old habits. What do you have to say to defend that?

There is not much difference to how we started the last season, but in football things work in all directions. When you start winning, you have to keep up with that mindset which helps you gain confidence. When you lose, you have to keep your head down and respond. Even in sports where there are individuals involved, when you win or lose the same kind of mentality goes every way. We have to perform on the pitch and show what we are made of, that is the only way to get back.

You mentioned wanting to play friendly games. Was it because you wanted the players to get the full fitness or to fix the issues and improve the errors made earlier?

We want to organise proper playing time for players who do not get enough game time so, when I want them to be ready for the games they are fit and raring to go, especially the young players who have just joined the team and are trying to get to know the full squad.

We are making it easy for them to adapt when the players get going with the first team players in January or whenever we need them. This is exactly what happens all over the world in the game of football.

There was a lot of talk about the substitution that you made in the last game. What do you have to say about that decision?

I made that particular substitution (bringing on Nihal Sudeesh), because the team lacked firepower on the right side of the pitch. I want my team to play more centrally and the substitution we made was because the team had a lot of quality players who could play well from the centre of the pitch.

It was also a chance for me to watch how the team responds in the Hero ISL as many of the players are getting into the team and experiencing their first minutes.

Saurav Mandal has not featured quite a lot in the league. What are your comments on that?

He (Saurav) is a great young player coming from the Hero I-League. But, there is a difference between the Hero I-League and Hero ISL and he knows that. He needs to work harder and get into the team gradually step-by-step. I am very happy with how he is training, he is a great character to work with.

Here are the excerpts from Luna’s press conference:

What are your expectations with respect to the game, and the fanbase which is considered as one of the best in the country?

We have to always thank our huge fanbase, and as a footballer I want to make them happy with the performances on the pitch during the game, wherever they might be, in home or in the stadiums cheering for us. I hope on Friday we continue doing the same.

Are you satisfied with the way you have played this season so far?

Last season we did well, but that is history. We have good players and replacements for them. We are trying to do our best, in football you need quite a set of games to know how to approach a game and we were not at our best in that department in the last game.