The Spaniard’s appointment as head coach at the Kochi-based club is seen as a positive move by many.
Kerala Blasters are set to replace Eelco Schattorie with Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning coach Kibu Vicuna for the next season. Vicuna who created history with the Green and Maroons will be taking charge of the Blasters in the Indian Super League.
The Spanish tactician has impressed one and all with his poignant style of play, which also allowed Mohun Bagan to dominate the I-League and win it with four matches to spare. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the 48-year-old fares in the ISL with the Kerala Blasters, who have not qualified for the playoffs since 2016.
Here are four traits of Vicuna that should excite Kerala Blasters fans:
4. Charismatic persona and dressing room environment
In any team sport, the dressing room environment can often determine whether the team will win or lose. It is the foundation of a team. Only in his first year in India, Vicuna struck the right chords with his players and always understood their body language. He turned a group of players into a team that shared a family-like bond on and off the pitch.
The Spaniard celebrated the highs collectively and even in lows, he was very considerate in front of the media and always backed his players to do well in the upcoming games. He showed humility and had mutual respect for his colleagues starting from Ranjan Chowdhury to Tomasz Tchorz, who worked alongside him at the Kolkata outfit. He was able to spread that positive aura around the team which eventually reflected in the output on the pitch.
3. Poignant gameplay of press, pass and score
Born in Zizurkil in Basque Country, Spain, Vicuna has been highly influenced by the possession-based gameplay of the teams from the region. He was also a youth coach at Osasuna and an avid follower of Pep Guardiola. Therefore, the Spaniard prefers the fluid pressing and passing style of play.
Vicuna tried incorporating that style at Mohun Bagan right from the pre-season, but the desired results did not come his way in the Calcutta Football League, Durand Cup or even in the Sheikh Kamal Cup. However, he was determined to master this philosophy and reflect that magic on the pitch via his players and they did not disappoint.
After making a few changes, he was able to achieve the style he wanted. Bagan played with vigour and showed immense character even in tough situations. He generally preferred a 4-3-3 where the forwards would come narrow and the onus of providing width was solely on the wing-backs. Both Ashutosh Mehta and Dhanachandra Singh added experience to the lineup and did a fabulous job in balancing both attacks and defence.
In midfield, Joseba Beitia played as the ball progressor, while Sheikh Sahil and Fran Gonzalez mainly fared as defensive screens. However, without the ball, the trio was given the responsibility of counter-pressing the opposition, allowing them no room in the middle of the park. VP Suhair played in an unconventional position as an inverted right winger, while Nongdamba Naorem added more cutting edge to their attack with his dribbling. Suhair combined well with Baba Diawara who was often the sole man upfront.
However when Daneil Cyrus got injured he had to opt for a 4-4-2 formation with Gonzalez slotting in at the heart of the defence. Now Beitia shouldered more responsibility partnering Sahil in the middle. While Komron Tursunov enjoyed the freedom to use his brisk pace and dribbling to good effect. The team produced some great build-up play and versatility to adapt to tough situations in the league and have come out with flying colours, proving Vicuna’s tactical acumen and flexibility.
2. An eye for developing young players
One of Vicuna’s distinct qualities has to be the identification and nurturing of young talent. The Spaniard has worked for years under Polish tactician Jan Urban at top clubs in Poland. Even during his Osasuna days, he has trained some world-class players, such as Cesar Azpilicueta, Raul Garcia, Nacho Monreal and so on.
When Kibu Vicuna joined Mohun Bagan, one of the first things he did was to transform Sheikh Sahil from a centre-back to a central midfielder, which did wonders for the 19-year-old. He became one of the pivotal players in the team in their I-League triumph. Even with Nongdamba Naorem, the minute changes in his game were visible. He became a more mature individual under the Spaniard and his much-criticized decision-making improved a lot too.
Vicuna also discovered talents like Subha Ghosh and Kiyan Nassiri. Although, Nassiri only played a few minutes, this experience will help him in the future. Ghosh was Vicuna’s super-sub as the youngster showed a great sense of positioning and was a breath of fresh air during the latter stages of games.
1. Flexibility and astute understanding to tackle tough situations
Vicuna always holds a calm head on his shoulders and never looks under pressure. That was evident during the 2-4 defeat against Churchill Brothers at home. There were setbacks which only motivated the Spaniard to strive for more and eventually he succeeded.
There were also setbacks in the form of an injury to Julen Colinas. Salva Chamorro’s poor form also meant he had to bring in two fresh faces in the early part of their I-League campaign. However, eventually, both Diawara and Tursunov settled into the team and played pivotal roles in the triumph. Vicuna always remained positive.
Then one of his star defenders Cyrus was sidelined for a considerable amount of time and he slotted in Gonzalez in a new role, where he fared pretty well. Then there were suspensions, niggles and other issues, but none of them could rattle the Spaniard, as he was always calm and composed with a mental frame of mind to overcome every difficulty.
Similarly, his traits will be useful at Kerala Blasters, considering the number of players that were injured for them last season. So, the Blasters can be hopeful that their next head coach is someone whom they can rely on even if the going gets tough.