Kibu Vicuna has his task cut out this Indian Super League (ISL) season. The new Kerala Blasters FC head coach comes with his own footballing philosophy, something that won him the I-League at a canter last season. However, his new team is crying out for some stability and an identity of their own after years of inconsistency and that will take time.
Whether he will get that time is another pertinent question though, since the Blasters have made nine managerial changes in the past six years. But under the leadership of new sporting director Karolis Skinkys, Vicuna might just have the liberty to express his ideas on the pitch like he did last season at Mohun Bagan.
That he will be facing his former employers (in a way) tomorrow and a settled team at that, doesn’t faze him. “ATK Mohun Bagan almost have the same team as last season. They were deserving champions last year and have very good players. But we are happy with our squad and with how the boys are training. I am confident that we will compete well,” the soft-spoken Spaniard said in a virtual press conference on Thursday.
A key problem area from last season has been the goalkeeping position where the Blasters have gone with four relatively inexperienced Indian players in Albino Gomes, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Bilal Husain Khan and Muheet Khan.
Vicuna isn’t worried though, having been impressed with how they have been working with the goalkeeping coach in training. “We have four very good goalkeepers. They are very competitive boys and it’s a good problem to have as a coach. I truly believe that we have four number 1s and I will pick whoever is suitable on the day based on how they have been training and the opposition,” he summarizes.
About his own time at Mohun Bagan and if he felt that he has a point to prove after being ignored for the top job following the ATK – Mohun Bagan merger, the 48-year-old said, “ I have very good memories from my time in Kolkata and have lots of friends there. But I am here now and am very happy to be with the Blasters. What I can promise is that I will do my absolute best after the way I have been received by everyone at the club. It will be a difficult season but I am confident about my team’s ability to play good football.
The Tuskers have a number of promising youngsters in the form of Sahal Abdul Samad, Nishu Kumar, Nongdamba Naorem, Rahul KP and the likes. Their transfer activity also points towards a proactive effort towards achieving balance between the defence and attack. With signings like Bakary Kone, Costa Nhamoinesu, Gary Hooper and Facundo Pereyra, one can’t help but feel excited about the side’s chances this season.
— K e r a l a B l a s t e r s F C (@KeralaBlasters) November 18, 2020
So how does he intend to use the youngsters in the side? “If the younger players train well and take their chances well, they will definitely get first team opportunities. Age is not an important factor for me, never has been. We have lots of youngsters with potential and they will grow and improve over the course of the season. We just have to be patient with them and help them make the right decisions on the pitch,” explains the seasoned coach.
Happy with the training arrangements and how the pre-season has shaped up for his side, Vicuna understands that this season will be very difficult for every side. “All the teams have problems in the current scenario but we will cope and try to do our best. The players are at different stages of fitness since some arrived in Goa and started training before while some others arrived later and had to be quarantined. However, we are slowly getting there and physically and tactically, we will be better in a month than what we are now,” is how he expresses his side’s preparation for the new season.
Vicuna would be wary of the fact that there are a number of questions that his team will have to answer in the coming weeks to come through for a fan base that is extremely demanding. Replacing Sandesh Jhingan and Bart Ogbeche, a playing style that fans can connect with and getting all the new signings to hit the ground running are merely just a few of those. The whole of Kerala will be hoping that Vicuna’s winning luck carries over in his new chapter but at the same time, we all know that time won’t be his friend for long if his side has a poor start to the season.
Kerala Blastes Predicted Line-up vs ATK Mohun Bagan (4-3-3):
Nishu Kumar; Bakary Kone; Costa Nhamoinesu; Jessel Carneiro;
Sergio Cidoncha; Vicente Gomez; Sahal Abdul Samad;
Rahul KP; Gary Hooper; Nongdamba Naorem