The Kerala Blasters head coach also emphasized on the overall preparedness of his team ahead of the league opener.
A new era has dawned upon Kerala Blasters with the arrival of new faces all over, starting from head coach Kibu Vicuna to others. However, as fate would have it, a similar foe awaits in their opening game of the Indian Super League (ISL) season. It’s the third season in a row when they’re facing an opponent from Kolkata, albeit a new entity this season in the form of ATK Mohun Bagan.
This creates an interesting situation for Kibu Vicuna, who helped Mohun Bagan win the I-League last season. This time, however, the tides have changed and he faces a stern test in the ISL. Unlike ATK Mohun Bagan, who have almost the same core of players as of last season, Kerala Blasters have made numerous changes to their squad.
When discussing whether having a new squad could affect Kerala’s chances against a more experienced opposition, Vicuna said, “ATKMB is a team that is almost the same as last season. They are the former champions, so they were the best in ISL last season. They also signed very good players this season. We are happy with the team we have.”
“We are training well and coaching staff is also happy with the team’s performance in training .We are a new team but we are going to do our best tomorrow and want to compete well in tomorrow’s match against ATKMB,” he added.
Despite changing sides, Kibu Vicuna has not forgotten his time at Mohun Bagan and when asked about having to compete against the Kolkata side on Friday, he remarked, “I will always have very good sentiments with Mohun Bagan. I was there last season and they treated me really well. I have a lot of friends there in the board, members of the club and supporters. But I’m very happy to be in Kerala Blasters.”
“The people here also received me very well. I have very good relationship with the staff of the club. We are going to try to play good football and that’s what is most important. Tomorrow (November 20) is only the first game. When you are playing the first game it looks like a final. After tomorrows’ game, we will have at least 19 more matches and hopefully more,” he added.
The goalkeeping situation has been a highly contested debate at Kerala Blasters over the last few seasons and this time they have a talented pack of goalkeepers around. Speaking about the lack of experience of his goalkeeping department, the Spaniard revealed, “We have very good goalkeepers and we are happy with the ones we have. They have a very big competition between them to get the first place in the team. We will see how things pan out. At this moment, we’re very happy with them.”
“We have four no.1’s. We are working with them since the beginning. We are happy with the way they’re training under the goalkeeping coach. They are playing well in the practice games. But we’re only focused on the first game,” Kibu Vicuna further added.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Kerala Blasters have had some issues with their foreigners arriving late and not being able to train properly as well. When speaking about the fitness situation of his squad, the tactician explained, “The players are in different situations because some have started in October 9 in first training. Then, we started training via video call and inside each other’s spaces. Some could run outside but some couldn’t because of quarantine.”
“In Goa, some have started training before and some of the foreigners arrived in different phases, impacting their ability to train. So they are in different conditions right now. But we are ready to play tomorrow,” he remarked.
Like every other team, Blasters have been forced to undergo pre-season training in Goa. When asked about the training conditions at their new home, Kibu Vicuna said, “Of course we are not only here in Goa in the pandemic but there’s one happening all over the world. We have really good facilities here and only take 15 minutes by bus to the training ground. The pitch is in very good condition. The pre-season is a little bit shorter than usual.”
“In a new team, we like to train more because we have players who ended quarantine only three days ago. But everything has its own problems. We have no complaints or any excuses. We are happy to start the league again and everyone is giving an effort to start the league immediately,” he further explained.
“The pre-season was short. It’s better to have a longer one with more time. The foreigners came later because of Visa issues and all. The whole team needs more time not only physically and tactically as well to adapt to the style.”
“We will be better next month than today and be better in two months than in one month. Of course, the players should be ready for tomorrow’s game but our 100% tomorrow will be lesser than what 100% we can be in one month’s time.”
Kibu Vicuna also assured the youngsters that they will get enough game-time if they prove themselves. “I’m not used to seeing the age of the players. We are playing well in the training sessions and playing practice teams. If the players take advantage of their opportunities, they will play. We have some good young players and some with a lot of experience. We are trying to create a perfect balance. For me, the age does not matter. We have youngsters with potential and they have to improve daily. Their mentality needs to be to be better today than yesterday.”
In somewhat of a unique fashion, Kerala Blasters have appointed three captains in Costa Nhamoinesu, Jessel Carneiro and Sergio Cidoncha. When asked about his reason behind this, the Spaniard revealed, “For me, the opinion of the players is important in terms of which player that want to represent the team. We ask them and we understood that they have the possibility of being very good captains. Everyone can be captains in the team but they are going to be the group of representatives in the team.”
“To be captain is not only having the armband in your arm. Its about being the representative of the team on and off the field. I always like to keep three-four captains. We have three right now and perhaps in the future, we’ll add another one,” he revealed.
Ace defender Costa Nhamoinesu, who joined Kibu Vicuna in the digital press conference, spoke about the reason behind his decision to join the club saying, “After my contract finished in Prague, I felt that I still have what it takes to play football at the highest level. I see when you play football at a higher level, you develop the hunger to perform at the top.”
“When I realized the ambition of the club, what they want to achieve and also the type of vibrant fans they have, I realized this is a place that could feed my hunger to compete for something tangible. Also the fact that the coach I worked with before is part of the team made it easier for me.”
The centre-back also spoke about the mental aspect of playing in a ‘bio bubble’ in this difficult scenario. “It’s a different situation altogether than normally what we’re used to. Everything now is all about the mental aspect. The players are also demanded of their physical aspect, but now we have to be strong mentally. We already know the situation which is at hand.”
“But we’re not losing at excuses. We’re only trying to work with what is expected from us. We just try to use whichever space we can after dinner or after activities. Nobody knows what the future holds. We are looking to work with whatever we have available to us and whatever we can access,” he added.