The hosts’ gaffer also revealed that the southerners will be experimenting with their side.
Kerala Blasters host Melbourne City in the opening game of the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season tournament, to be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Tuesday. The event is the first of its kind international extravaganza to be organized in India. Ahead of the big clash the hosts’ manager David James met members of the media at a pre-match press-conference in the city earlier today.
James is an affable man. Starting off the first pre-season press conference with a traditional ‘namaskaram,’ the man knows how to please the locals. The interaction started with James being asked about pre-season training, his idea of his squad and his opinion on the upcoming tournament.
James answered, “That’s a very good question. You’ve got a group of players and staff that wants to win everything. We’re up against Melbourne City – one of the best sides in the A-league and Girona FC – one of the better teams in La Liga. We’ve to be realistic in one sense and we’re not sure how good we are.”
He continued in the same vein, “The responsibility lies with us, to try our best and win a game of football. The new signings have shown good signs, very encouraging and we’ve a very hungry group of players, who I expect play the game and not the occasion. We want to win, doing the right things, against opposition that’s so much better.”
Talking about the low-on-scoring and striker conundrum, James harped on the changes he’s made to the side. “It’s not just about new signings, but also about the changes in the technical staff. We’ve experimented a lot during the training sessions in a preparational way. We’ve got some players who can score, with Cyril Kali also good at scoring. The new players, too, have been happily surprised with India.”
Talking about the opponents, James gave it up a little. “We’ve analysed Melbourne and their strength lies in their diversity. They’ve got some exciting young players and they’ve some very experienced players who can help them.”
“Dheeraj will start the game tomorrow,” James set the record straight. The manager also informed that local talent Sujith Sasikumar is injured and Naveen Kumar will vie the goalkeeping spot with Dheeraj. “There are a lot of expectations from Dheeraj, understandably. He’s been fantastic and we hope he does well tomorrow.”
James came up with an exciting answer to the next question. When asked whether the training continues after the tournament is over, he blatantly replied, “Well, tell me the date of the beginning of the ISL and I’ll answer your question.” Witty, James. “It is a small pre-season with just two games and there will certainly be a break until the fixtures are announced. The intensity, though, has been there and all 31 players are trying hard to reach the best level they can.”
David James speaking before the match
“We didn’t have hasty signings, and we still have a position open. We’re pretty happy with the local players and the five internationals that we’ve on our roster. We’re very happy with our signings.”
The Englishman didn’t mince words when asked about the local players and their selection. “Kerala Blasters isn’t charity. They are in the squad because they deserve to be, on merit. We would’ve wanted the same players, had they played in any other part of the country.” James also praised a couple of them, saying, “I was here a long time ago and I’m happy that I see development in Kerala and the state is producing good players.”
Who will start up top? Will it be Matej Poplatnik or Slavisa? James defied the obvious and stated, “They’re not strikers, they’re versatile attackers. CK Vineeth came back last season and was great, but we’re not sure whether he’ll play a part or not (jaw injury). We’ve got Prasanth, Vineeth and we’ll experiment a lot.”
A ‘dhanyawaad’ with folded hands can make any Indian journalist’s day at the end of a press conference and the room in Kochi had a lot of smiles for their manager.