The former NorthEast United head coach had quite a disappointing season with the Kochi-based club.
A few days ago, Khel Now revealed that Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning head coach, Kibu Vicuna, will head over to Kerala Blasters and assume the responsibilities from Eelco Schattorie there. This means that the end of the road is near for Schattorie, as he dragged the ‘Yellow Brigade’ through a tumultuous season marred with injuries in the previous campaign.
The Dutchman is in some ways a veteran in Indian football, having held the jobs of NorthEast United, East Bengal and Prayag United in the past. His stint with the Blasters was perceived as the start of a turnaround for a club that has become a revolving door of new managers in the recent past. It is a good brief period of time to assess how Schattorie performed in his one-season tenure.
After the Blasters’ draw against Mumbai City FC in early December, Schattorie had quoted, “Last year, they had a coach (David James) who played long balls. I have players in my team who have never been coached. They just play the ball and run. It is a process. I have a team that is in transition.”
Sahal Abdul Samad was under immense focus in this campaign. After a breakout season last year, the lad was expected to take a central role in the rebuilding of the Blasters. Whilst the head coach was fielded questions about Sahal throughout the campaign, the 22-year old ended up playing only an average of 44 minutes per match. He was shunted to a wider role at times too and recorded merely two assists despite having a prolific forward duo of Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Messi Bouli in front of him.
On the other hand, Rahul KP had to battle his own share of fitness troubles and made only eight appearances for the team. Jeakson Singh was probably the only young individual who stood apart with his consistent displays on the field. The midfielder’s graph could be seen going upwards briskly and Eelco Schattorie deserves praise for the same.
Another aspect that bothered Kerala regularly was TP Rehenesh’s appalling form throughout the 2019-20 season. The custodian had followed the head coach from NorthEast United and was expected to be one of the mainstays of the team. However, what ensued thereon surprised many people.
The Dutchman went to the extent of publicly calling out Rehenesh’s underwhelming form and how detrimental it turned out to be for the team’s defensive woes throughout the season. The team was found short of viable talent on the goalkeeping front, but it needs to be brought into factor that Eelco Schattorie must have had a vital role to play in Rehenesh switching sides to Kerala.
To put it into context, Kerala conceded the third-most number of goals amongst the 10 teams in the league. Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC are the only teams who surpassed the Blasters’ tally and they are invariably placed below them in the league table.
Giving credit to the Blasters though, they scored more goals than three of the six teams that finished higher than them. But, a lacklustre attitude at the back coupled with Sandesh Jhingan’s season-ending injury early on had a major impact upon Schattorie’s fate.
Who is responsible for the spate of injuries?
In the ISL, the foreign players form the bedrock upon which the foundation of a team is built. However, five out of Kerala’s eight overseas players missed five games or more due to fitness issues. In fact, three of them including Gianni Zuiverloon, Mario Arques and Jairo Rodrigues had to sit out of more than nine encounters due to their respective injuries.
Such a scenario hampers the morale and dynamics of any side, especially in a league where there is barely any recovery time for the players to come back and compensate for their absence with good performances later on. However, why did the Blasters suffer so many injury setbacks? Is there a pattern that could be drawn from the training patterns that Eelco Schattorie had set up for the team?
Dr. Pradyumna Tembhekar, an MBBS from Mumbai, who has experience in treating sportsmen suggests, “The training is not to be blamed completely. There is an issue of the players’ medical management and man-management not going hand-in-hand. For example, players are brought up after playing the entirety of the last season without being given enough recovery time. There is a lack of regular monitoring of fitness levels, especially among the new signings. Then, the training regimes aggravate the issues rather than developing muscle memory.”
Kerala Blasters are not the only team that have faced such an obstacle. Mumbai City FC’s duo of Mato Grgic and Rowllin Borges had played an entire season under Schattorie’s tutelage at NorthEast United in 2018-19. Both of them were sidelined early on in the season due to fitness issues. This could be a classic example of new signings not managing to recover completely after having played full-throttle in the preceding campaign.
“Monotonous training sessions mean that muscle memory requires time to be developed properly. There’s a possibility that Eelco Schattorie didn’t provide his players with the ample break required for that to happen. Hence, probably even ex-NorthEast United players like Grgic and Borges were on the brink of getting injured. Obviously, there are other factors that come into play here, but this could be one of the contributing ones,” Dr. Tembhekar said.
How does this muscle memory pan out elsewhere amongst the other ISL teams? One of the better examples of this being handled well could be taking FC Goa’s case into context. Despite being under the tutelage of Sergio Lobera for more than two seasons, the Spaniard rarely complained about any injuries. An exception in this could be Ferran Corominas, who had to deal with his own share of fitness troubles. However, by and large, the team remained consistently fit and hence they could field their first-choice XI regularly. The positive results of the same are there to be witnessed by all. “Lobera gave players the adequate time to recover and honed a memory-based gameplay, reaping the rewards of the same in the end,” stated the doctor.
However, what Kerala could have inferred from FC Goa’s reference is that consistency in training methods and the philosophy that a coach looks to implement on the field matter a lot. The Blasters have already had eight individuals including former caretaker manager Trevor Morgan at the helm in their six years of existence. This includes nine managerial changes without taking Kibu Vicuna’s appointment into consideration (David James has had two stints with the club). The first three seasons weren’t even spanned out for the amount of time that the previous three have been.
How does the top brass of the club even expect the players to deliver on the field if they keep making such rampant, vital changes behind the doors? For all his drawbacks, Eelco Schattorie actually did fight his way out of a terrible injury crisis in his squad this season. He is no novice and understands the football in this country well. Could he have done better to squeeze some better results? Maybe yes.
Did he do just about enough to be persisted with given the circumstances that he was leading the club under? Definitely, yes. There’s obviously a temptation to pounce upon a celebrated coach and acquire his services. But, the Blasters have fallen prey to this syndrome multiple times in the past.
Yet, the once burnt club has refrained from being twice shy. Eventually, it’s Eelco Schattorie who has had to pay the price.