The Blasters endured a campaign of upheval on and off the pitch, in which, everything that could go wrong did,
Before the Indian Super League’s fourth edition started, Kerala Blasters arguably had one of the top squads in the league. With Dimitar Berbatov, who at the peak of his career was a crowd favourite at Manchester United and Wes Brown’s unquestionable tenacity and versatility, the Blasters squad looked dangerous.
Rene Meulensteen, once the assistant to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, was appointed as the head coach with the promise of better things to come. But, as the season began, the southerners were not recognizable with their woeful gameplay.
The defects of the Blasters’ side were visible in their performances and the management was forced to show Meulensteen the exit door. Former custodian David James replaced the Dutch tactician at the helm with an uphill task to execute.
However, James was able to bring back the lost harmony of the squad but failed to get them into the top four, ending Blasters’ disastrous season in the process.
Fact Sheet for Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 6th
Games Played: 20
Win %: 30%
Kerala Blasters had their pre-season campaign at the renowned Marbella Football Centre in Spain. The team spent weeks training and played four games there. They started off their Spanish jaunt with a victory against Athletic Coin. In their second match, they were held by Juventud Torremolinos, while they won against Real Balompedica Linense in the penultimate match. However, they were trounced by Marbella FC in the final game of their pre-season sojourn.
In India, they played against Gokulam Kerala in a closed-door affair. Despite starting star players like Berbatov, the game ended in a stalemate.
Flop of the Season
When Kerala Blasters announced the signing of former Manchester United attacker Berbatov, it was considered as one of the best signings ever made by an ISL franchise. However, the goalscorer was forced to ply his trade as a midfielder. But, the decision came back to haunt the southerners time and again.
The Bulgarian was no longer the same as his presence slowed down the tempo of the game. In fact, he scored just one goal for them.
Berbatov’s Performance in ISL 2017-18
Goal conversion rate: 17%
Top 3 Performances
Manager’s Report Card
Is there a better way to split Kerala Blasters’ season into two different parts? Certainly not. Under Meulensteen, they lacked cohesion as a unit. The team failed to coordinate with each other and could not execute the intended gameplay. Also during the Dutchman’s stint, there were several reports suggesting disharmony among teammates, which escalated the pace of their decline.
Meulensteen played players in wrong positions, which in turn saw them being unable to perform their natural style of play. For instance, he used Arata Izumi as the defensive midfielder and it failed miserably. The instability in the team was severely exploited and Rene was hapless.
However, his replacement, James instilled much-needed confidence into the squad and altered it into a congruous one. He brought in players like Gudjon Baldvinsson and Victor Pulga to enhance the side’s stability.
Lessons to be learned
Kerala Blasters’ transformation from being one of the best-ever ISL squad on paper to a misfiring side was quick. Unlike their first three seasons, the Kerala-based ISL outfit spent more money this time around and were able to net some bigger fishes.
Kerala’s foreign contingent was a mix of youngsters and famed players. When we closely analyze the foreign crew of the teams that impressed in this ISL, they were players aged between 25-30. The definitive fact that famed players wouldn’t always impress in the league was again underlined as the Indian fraternity saw the downfall of Berbatov and Co. So, Kerala need to be more prudent, while choosing their foreign contingent for the next season.
Also, their domestic group’s makeup wasn’t a big difference from the aforementioned. Blasters let Mehtab Hossain go but didn’t find a replacement for him to anchor their midfield, and it had its impact. Moreover, there weren’t many backup options in the squad and it hurt them when players were injured.
After failing to find chemistry David James’ tactics, Berbatov decided to part ways with the team even when the Super Cup was remaining. Ugandan sensation Keziron Kizito was also dropped from the squad, as he failed to attain full fitness before the tournament. Gudjon Baldvinsson went back to Iceland to join Stjarnan FC. Meanwhile, Blasters announced their Super Cup squad with only five foreigners.
Injured Jackichand Singh was also dropped from the squad. Blasters faced NEROCA FC in their first match. After dominating the play in the first half, Kerala conceded three goals in the last 20 minutes against a rejuvenated NEROCA side, ending their Super Cup hopes in the process.
Had Berbatov played as a forward, he could’ve scored one or two goals. Vineeth has the ability to score goals, but he’s not a skilled player, in my opinion. Kerala Blasters should’ve recruited Pulga earlier, as his performance was visible in the Super Cup.