The Englishman said that his Indian players have been keen to soak up knowledge and experience from the foreign stars…

Hero Indian Super League 2016 is set to come to a close at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Sunday with Kerala Blasters FC and Atlético de Kolkata locking horns in the final. Both teams also played in the final of the inaugural season in which Kolkata came out on top courtesy of a late goal that made them the first champions of the Hero ISL. Ahead of the game on Sunday, Kerala head coach Steve Coppell, whose team has won all of their last six games at Kochi, believes that while playing at home in front of their fans will play a role, it will not be the defining factor in the game.

“It will be a comfortable atmosphere for us as it is our home ground and the crowd gives us huge support but the crowd doesn’t play and whoever wins tomorrow has got to earn the trophy by playing well and being committed and the crowd is a great background for us to play against but it not going to give us goals and stop goals from going in. It is more pleasant for us and I am glad we are at home but it means nothing in terms of two teams playing against each other,” the Englishman told reporters at the pre-match press conference.

He added: “Once you are on the field it doesn’t really matter what happens outside and I hope tomorrow is going to be about who is going to be the best team on the evening and I hope it is good football and the kind of football that everyone wants to see. I think both teams would like to attack and we will enjoy the occasion and the crowd will make sure of that, and the support will be fabulous to see. It will not be an advantage or disadvantage but just background.”

The 61-year-old also gave his assessment of Indian players and way forward for domestic talents. “I think from Day One the Indian players have been like sponges and they want to soak up knowledge, experience and they want to interact with the foreign players to learn how things are done in other countries and they need more experience to develop as players and technically and physically they have the capabilities to do better and they only do that when they have an opportunity to play more competitive games and a player plays in the I-league and ISL and he plays 30 games a season while the international players are playing 45-50 games a season and it is that competition that brings out better techniques and more footballing wisdom, so going forward I would say that Indian players are ready to take that step. They need the environment, that’s all,” Coppell said.

Elaborating on why most sides have been heavily reliant on foreign strikers getting the goals for the team, he said: “I think when you are compiling the squad you have 11 foreign players and 14 Indian players and I think inevitably you look at the international players you look at strikers who will do something different and score goals and I think in time there will be some terrific Indian players and they will get better and better.”

Former Kerala man and ATK’s highest-scorer this year (7 goals), Iain Hume was on the losing side with the Blasters the last time these two teams met in a final. However, the Canadian striker is still waiting for his first goal against Kerala having failed to find the back of the net against the men in yellow ever since his move to Kolkata. When asked why Hume has not been as effective up front when playing against Kerala, Coppell said: “Well probably as an ex-Kerala player I think he has decided not to score against us so far and he is a terrific player and his reason for playing is to score goals and he does not differentiate against who he should score and I am sure he will be desperate to score tomorrow and I know he enjoyed his time here and the supporters also enjoyed watching him, so tomorrow we have a job to do and we have to try and stop him if he is playing and we will do our best to do that and we will try to keep him quiet and if we do that then we have managed to do a good job.”

Coppell was also quick to shrug aside a suggestion that Kerala’s only loss at home this year, which came against ATK, will be preying on his players’ minds. “No history doesn’t matter and tomorrow is just one game in isolation and it is one game of 90 minutes and it is a unique occasion and will not decided by anything other than good play and I hope the players can have a good game and enjoy themselves,” he said.

The Blasters’ marquee signing Aaron Hughes accompanied Coppell to the press conference. Summing up his first season in the Hero ISL, Hughes said: “Well in terms of Indian experience I have thoroughly enjoyed it and obviously I came here for football reasons and that was the number one priority, so to be sitting here on the eve of the final I consider it pretty successful so far and on the other side of it on a personal level, to come to a new country and meet new people, that has been something wonderful for me, so I have nothing but good things to say when I go home and I have really enjoyed it and there are lots of things on my mind but the biggest thing at the moment is tomorrow and I am looking forward to tomorrow and hoping for good things.”

Report and Photo Courtesy: ISL Media