The Sporting Director of the Yellow Army spoke comprehensively about his role at the club in an exclusive interview with Khel Now.

  • Sports is a medium of empowerment at Kerala Blasters
  • The sporting director supports the decision of the club to part ways with Eelco Schattorie
  • Aiming to become torchbearers of in creating international quality Indian talent

It goes without saying that Kerala Blasters are one of the most popular franchises in the Indian Super League (ISL). The Kochi-based club have reached the final of the ISL twice and have also set numerous records – in stadium attendance, social media following and so on.

However, in recent times, the Yellow Army has been unable to replicate its initial success on the pitch, having failed to make it to the playoffs for the past three seasons in a row. Hence, in the upcoming campaign, they will be keen to not only make it to the top-four, but also to try and take home the elusive league title which slipped from their hands quite narrowly in 2014 and 2016.

It is with this objective in mind that the Blasters appointed Karolis Skinkys as their new Sporting Director and Kibu Vicuna as their new head coach. In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, Skinkys spoke on a host of topics including his primary responsibilities at the club, his observations on the ISL and the state of football in both India and Kerala among other things.

“A Sporting Director is a person who is responsible for all the sports-related operations in the club – recruitment of coaches and players, scouting and youth development,” Skinkys began. “He is the link between these processes and the club owners.”

“In an even more simplified manner, he is the first person you can question, if the team doesn’t get results or the processes don‘t go the way they should,” he added.

The 30-year-old has already proven his mettle as the former Director of FK Suduva, the defending champions of A Lyga – the top football division in Lithuania. Under his guidance, they also made it to the UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds and won their third successive league title last season.

However, the club was not equally successful prior to Skinkys’ appointment, as revealed by the man himself. “Suduva is my home. I grew up at this club and I have seen a lot of underwhelming seasons. When I started working in 2015, I was completely inexperienced. However, I learned a lot during this time,” he stated.

“The situation started to change when quality players started playing for the club. It didn’t happen right away, but over time and with a great trust in the processes that were set. Hence, with the right recruitment of players and professional staff, we finally became champions in 2017.”

He went on to add that, although the club is yet to have more achievements on its way forward, the need for a new challenge prompted him to shift base to Kerala. “With the quality the team currently has, I have no doubt that they will go for plenty more. At this stage of my career, I wanted a new project and a fresh challenge. So, I was very happy to start communicating with Kerala Blasters.”

“I have already watched a few matches of the ISL. Overall, the league has helped put India on the map of global football. Kerala is one of the oldest powerhouses of Indian football. The emotion that the state holds towards the sport has only grown over the years and even today Kerala contributes towards the highest stadium attendances, TV viewership and digital following!

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“The energy and passion of the young fanbase in the state is a promising factor for football to develop and grow here,” Karolis Skinkys explained, when asked about his earliest impressions of Indian football.

He also pointed out that that the Blasters’ management shared a solid vision with him during their first meeting and that in-turn encouraged him to take up the new role. “During my very first interaction with the management, the club shared a beautiful vision, to ensure the development of football in Kerala, both for the first-team players as well as the youth sector.

“At KBFC, sports are more than just games, it is a medium of empowerment. The entire team, including the management, is equally vested in realizing this vision. Hence, I would like to thank the management for trusting me to carry out this vision and I am eagerly looking forward to adding my contribution to achieving the goals of the club,” he asserted.

Upon asked about the club’s decision to replace Eelco Schattorie with Kibu Vicuna as the new head coach, the Lithuanian backed the management and declared complete trust in their choice. “First of all, Kibu is a very professional coach, a great person and a natural competitor. He likes to win and has a strong knowledge of football to achieve results,” the official began.

‘His varied experience will definitely help our club grow. I have great respect for him and have no doubts about his capabilities,” he opined. He further emphasized that although the young players would be a priority for the Blasters, the focus will remain primarily on improving the quality of performances on the pitch.

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“My key word is always quality. Of course it can have different meanings when you look at it from different perspectives. However, the club should also maintain some balance,” he said. “Younger players are always a priority for us, but nothing, including age, is above quality. Chances for winning are always high for a team that is organized with the highest quality. We will definitely give chances to younger players based on personalities and their abilities, but every team member, irrespective of the age will be analyzed on quality parameters to help deliver success on the pitch.”

The 30-year-old also stressed on the importance of creating the right tools and a supportive ecosystem at the club for achieving the desired results.

“The right tools and a supportive ecosystem include recruitment of professional coaches, experienced and capable support staff, talented and quality players, building a competitive environment within the squad and also ensuring the growth of the academy players who have an opportunity to be promoted to the first-team,” he elaborated.

Karolis Skinkys further added, “Successful implementation of processes and protocols is definitely a long-term project that I intend to take up at the club. As mentioned previously, my immediate aim is to put together the best possible team of players and support staff that can help achieve the visions of the club, while also showcasing an enjoyable game of football for the fans.”

“Some changes have already been implemented. We will now pay more attention to bettering specific protocols like injury prevention, speedy recovery, longer pre-season, player fitness, diet and so on. These are all important details that help the head coach plan the processes in a more organized and professional fashion and also delegate such responsibilities to experts in their relative fields.”

Speaking about the pay-cuts imposed on Kerala Blasters stars, Karolis Skinkys responded by saying that it is only one of the many necessary steps that every football club has to take, due to the ongoing economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has had its effects on the business of football too, not just in India but around the world. These are testing times that call for the entire fraternity to support each other and emerge stronger to achieve the common goal – the sustenance and revival of football as early as possible. Hence, such tough decisions have been adopted by clubs around the world.”

“Without a doubt, all major processes within Kerala Blasters were affected by the pandemic. So far, we are unaware of even the starting dates of the league next season. This has surely influenced recruitment and season preparations. Not being available in Kerala at the moment is also a big challenge – however, I have full trust in my team to adapt and overcome these challenges,” he added. Further, Karolis Skinkys revealed how the club management has taken a few steps to tackle the situation.

“Although, the team hasn’t been able to work together physically due to the current circumstances, we have made best use of digital assets to interact on a daily basis. Regarding the building of a new team, I’m positive, all processes can be done online. However, I hope to meet the players, coaching staff and the administrative staff of the club soon and build better and stronger working relationships.”

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Karolis Skinkys also revealed that while he officially joined Kerala Blasters only in April, he has been involved in the club’s decision-making since February – especially in matters concerning recruitment. He also spoke about how Sandesh Jhingan’s departure was one of the major challenges that he faced since joining the Yellow Army.

“Jhingan’s departure is very painful to me as well, just like it has been for the fans. But, sometimes in life, there are situations that are unfortunate and it is pointless to force and change the natural way of life. I have great respect for him and we are in a good enough relationship to stay in touch for the future.”

Upon asked about his thoughts on the implementation of the ‘3+1’ rule in Indian football, he stated that it bodes well for the growth of the sport in the country. However the former FK Suduva man sounded a note of caution, stressing that it should not be exercised all of a sudden. “Professional clubs must plan their processes well in advance, even up to a period of two years prior to a season. Hence, major changes such as the ‘3+1’ rule, must be implemented as a gradual process, by continuously building competitive environments for domestic players to learn and grow, thereby ensuring an overall development of Indian football.”

Finally, Karolis Skinkys signed off by assuring fans that he, along with the club will try everything in their capacity to compete for the ISL title next season.

“We are well aware of the passion that our fans have, for both – the club and the sport in general. Kerala Blasters would like to take this to the next level by being the No. 1 team in India, that generates young and talented players who not just represent the club on a national level, but also the country on an international playing field. The club aims to be the torchbearers in creating international quality Indian talent, thereby reinforcing the legacy of Kerala in the sport,” he concluded.

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