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ISL: Ifs, buts, and controversies sum up Kerala Blasters' 2022-23 season

The Bridge writes its season review for the Indian Super League teams around the 2022-23 season, starting with Kerala Blasters.

ISL: Ifs, buts, and controversies sum up Kerala Blasters 2022-23 season

Aswathy Santhosh

Updated: 16 May 2023 4:41 PM GMT

The latest edition of the Hero Indian Super League saw the Kerala Blasters enter the competition with great expectations, buoyed by their successful run to the semifinals and finals in the previous season, following a hiatus of six years.

Though their quest for championship glory ultimately fell short, the remarkable performance left an indelible impression on the hearts of their ardent supporters, albeit, deferring the long-awaited prospect of a trophy for another year.

The club demonstrated their ambitions by extending the contracts of their key players, Adrian Luna and Marko Leskovic. This astute move instilled renewed hope and enthusiasm, as they set their sights on finally clinching the championship.

However, the following season was a tumultuous roller-coaster ride, starting with a resounding 3-1 triumph over East Bengal but leaving a sense of doubt, they lost their next three games in a row.

However, a valiant effort, an eight-game unbeaten run, saw them climb up the table. Alas, injuries to key foreign defender Marco Leskovic and Sandeep Singh in January inflicted significant damage. Sandeep's absence destabilized the defense and made it arduous to compete with the elite teams.

Despite the setbacks, they qualified for the knockout stages even after losing six games out of the last eight. However, a controversial goal in extra time against Bengaluru FC saw Coach Ivan Vukomanovic lead his team off the pitch in protest, ending their campaign in contention.

The Hero Super Cup was a highly anticipated event for Kerala Blasters fans as the tournament was being held in their home state. With high hopes of winning, the club eventually decided to send their main squad after persistent pressure from the fans. The team started off strong, defeating the I-league champions Roundglass Punjab FC 3-1.

However, they faced a setback as they lost to Sreenidi Deccan 2-0 and ultimately got knocked out of the group stage by Bengaluru FC in the last game. Adding to the team's misfortune was the absence of Ivan Vukomanovic, who was serving a 10-game ban and was not present on the sidelines.

Best Moment : Kerala Blasters FC's return to Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi, after a two-year hiatus sans fans due to the pandemic, was a sublime spectacle to behold. The stadium was awash with an ocean of yellow, as fans donned the team's iconic jersey with fervor, providing a mesmerizing sight. The electric atmosphere reached a crescendo when the revered head coach, Ivan Vukomanovic, made his debut on the hallowed turf, eliciting an exultant response from the crowd.

The players fed off the palpable excitement and delivered a commanding victory over East Bengal, led by their captain Adrian Luna's poignant goal, dedicated to his departed daughter Julieta, which struck an emotional chord among not only the Kerala Blasters supporters but also their adversaries.

Goal Of The Season : Adrian Luna orchestrated a magnificent team goal, gifting the Indian football fans with a moment of absolute enchantment against Jamshedpur FC. It was a goal that encapsulated the essence of teamwork and fluidity, leaving the opposition defense in disarray. A goal that drew worldwide attention.

Luna kickstarted the buildup, displaying his vision and creativity to find Sahal in the box. Sahal, in turn, played the ball back to Luna, who launched a pinpoint pass to Dimitrios Diamantakos lurking in the box.

Diamantakos' deft backheel found Apostolos Giannou, who followed up with another elegant backheel pass to Luna, who connected sweetly and found the back of the net

Player Of The Season : Adrian Luna, the captain of Kerala Blasters FC, displayed exceptional prowess on the field this season. Having etched his name on the scoresheet with four goals and six assists, Luna played a crucial role in his team's triumphs. Despite a slight dip in his goal-scoring tally, his unwavering consistency has been a testament to his skill and dedication.

Finds Of The Season : Vibin Mohanan and Nihal Sudeesh, two players who came through the ranks of Kerala Blasters have been the talking point of the town within just few games itself.

The Good : The Blasters' dismal record at Kochi, with just 18 wins out of 53 matches played, had been a cause for concern before Vukomanovic's arrival. However, this season, Ivan Vukomanovic steered the Blasters to a remarkable turnaround, winning an impressive seven out of their 10 home games.

The passionate fans of Kerala Blasters have also played a key role in making the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, a hostile environment for the opposition. The raucous atmosphere in the stands has instilled fear in the hearts of the away teams, giving the Blasters a significant advantage.

Under Vukomanovic's leadership, the Blasters have finally found their footing at home, and the fortress they have built promises to be a formidable challenge for any team in the Hero ISL.

The Bad : Kerala Blasters' lack of squad depth proved to be their downfall in the second half of the season. Despite showing potential to finish in the top three, the team's performance took a drastic dip when their right back, Sandeep Singh, got injured in January.

With only a week left until the winter transfer window closed, the team failed to sign a replacement and instead brought in midfielder Danish Farooq from Bengaluru FC, which was not a priority at the time.

The team's struggle to fill the void left by Singh's injury resulted in eight losses out of ten matches.

The Not So Pretty : Well of course, the walkout.The Blasters were annoyed when referee Crystal John allowed Sunil Chhetri's quick free-kick to count as a goal. In reaction, their coach, Ivan Vukomanovic, came onto the pitch and motioned for his players to walk off the pitch and go to the dressing room, despite the fact that they had 24 minutes of extra time remaining.

This unexpected turn of events stirred different opinions among the football fraternity, supporting and opposing the walkout. However, the head coach and the club expressed their regret through social media platforms after the AIFF demanded an apology.

Verdict : 5/10. Kerala Blasters had an average season, plagued by under-performing players and a lack of reinforcements that hampered their effectiveness. Despite a strong start, the team struggled to maintain their momentum and quickly fell apart, exposing their squad's lack of depth.

The inability to acquire stronger players to supplement the club's core revealed management's failure to develop a competitive team. As a result of these shortcomings, the squad failed to live up to their fans' expectations and fell far short of reaching significant success.

As they look ahead to the future, they will undoubtedly need to address some of the issues that hindered their performance this season, including squad depth and defensive vulnerabilities, in order to come back stronger next season.

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