Does David James deserve to bear the brunt of Kerala Blasters fans' wrath?
Written by: Ali Shibil Roshan
A section of the Southerners' fans have called in to question the head coach's team selections amidst mixed results.
After three games, fielding fewer foreigners than allowed, David James started with five overseas players against Jamshedpur FC at the Furnace. Unlike Kerala's first three games, things did not go as planned for Kerala Blasters, as they were 2-0 down at half-time. In their recent game, which was against Pune City FC, he went with 5 foreigners, but they could not break the streak of draws with a win.
In their 4th game, David James' second-half substitutions might have helped Kerala Blasters get back on track and earn a point. But fans are not in a jovial mood to laud the heroics of their coach, who, according to them has not been able to select a proper squad.
Kerala Blasters' first-half performance against Jamshedpur FC exposed fallibilities and fragilities of this squad. The weaknesses of the defensive unit, which until then was considered to be tenacious, was unwrapped by the Jamshedpur FC attackers as Sandesh Jhingan and Co. made some schoolboy errors throughout the game.
Against ATK and Mumbai City FC, Kerala Blasters played with four foreigners, while it was three against Delhi Dynamos. Fans have started to questions James' selection. How did some players, who fans did not want to start, start for Kerala Blasters? How did some players, who fans wanted to start, did not start for the Yellow Tuskers? Let's find out.
Making Sense Of Fans' Claim
Fans have been enraged by the selection of CK Vineeth, who has been below-par
Against ATK and Mumbai City FC, David James fielded the same squad, and four foreigners made it to the starting XI. In their third match, which was against Josep Gombau's Delhi Dynamos, only three foreigners managed to make the cut.
Blasters' performance against ATK was sublime, to say the least. Against Mumbai City FC, they had the upper hand and should have won the game, had not Bhumij produced a moment of brilliance in the dying minutes of the game. But, it was not the situation when the Yellow Tuskers went head-to-head with Delhi Dynamos at Kochi. The home side struggled and lost the dominance they had in the first two games.
Against Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters looked a different team from what they had been in the first two games of this season. Kerala Blasters floundered when Jamshedpur FC attacked.
The midfield, that had commanded all of their previous games, failed to etch passes together, misplaced the balls. Its defence, which had looked majestic, scrambled to clear the ball properly and got outplayed by the JFC attackers. The south Indian outfit's frontmen which had threatened the opponents in their first games though goals did not come as expected, wandered on the pitch and failed to make at least a shot on target.
In their recent game, Kerala Blasters dominated the play for the most part but, still could not register a victory. David James gave starts to Kali, Doungel and Sahal, who impressed for the hosts in their comeback.
However, one cannot justify but wonder how CK Vineeth made it into the starting XI, again. Vineeth might have scored got his name on the scoresheet against Delhi Dynamos and Jamshedpur FC, but his performance was far from convincing. He was not a big threat for the oppositions and misplaced, miscued the ball on numerous occasions. He cut a frustrated, isolated figure in their recent fixtures and was saved by the fact that he scored a goal that helped them get away with a draw.
In Pune, David James trusted CK Vineeth, again and the Kerala-born player did better, but still left a lot to be desired. Vineeth could not find the winner and only tested Kamaljith with some weak shots, but the latter saved everything, comfortably. James could have used players like Prasanth - who was one of the standout performers for Kerala in the LaLiga World -, Narzary instead of Vineeth, which he didn't and hasn't.
Anas Edathodika missed Kerala's first three games as he served a suspension. It was expected that he would make his debut for the Blasters in the league against Jamshedpur, which didn't happen, neither did he make against Pune. This shows how brave James is, not to include a regular Indian International into his starting XIs, but why is James unwilling to be as brave as this when it comes to CK Vineeth?
Sahal Abdul Samad returned to the starting XI against Pune. He may have become the apple of the eye of the supporters with his awe-inspiring performance against Jamshedpur FC, but the youngster, to be honest, is a work in progress.
Football runs in veins, and his sheer determination and talent were on display against Jamshedpur FC, where he came off the bench and turned the tide for the Tuskers. In Pune, he was lucky not to receive any booking for intentional-fouls on opposition players. Since making it to the starting XI of their first game, Sahal has had shots from outside the box, which, to the frustration of the fans, have not yielded the desired result.
His defence-splitting pass against The Men Of Steel, which eventually helped Kerala earn a crucial penalty, showcases the talent Sahal is. However, he needs to be consistent. Last night, he made a few wayward passes, an area where he must improve and this lad, for sure, will get more opportunities if he continues his current development.
Courage Pekuson was, arguably, one of the best performers for Kerala in the ISL 4. The Ghanaian attacking midfielder has not made it into the starting XI for Kerala this season, and question marks over it remain as Kerala, badly, miss an attacking midfielder.
If David James is indeed experimenting with the squad, what did he do during the pre-season sojourn where they played against the likes Girona FC, who ply their trade in the La Liga? If 7 games, which they played as part of the pre-season preparations, were not enough for him to find the best starting XI, how many more games would he need?
Well, there is more to the story than what meets the eye.
Making Sense of David James' Decisions
The return of Prasanth with Anas and Kali means more selection problems for James
As aforesaid, James included Kali, Doungel and Sahal in his starting XI against Pune City. This shows he is willing to make changes to his squad. Kali delivered a good performance, whereas Doungel and Sahal showed glimpses of what they can but scoring goals has become a problem.
Young full-back Mohamad Rakip has started for Kerala in all games and delivered solid outings, but there are areas where he has to improve, that he will ameliorate as he garners more experience. And the braveness of James must be appreciated.
Kerala Blasters' lacked in the attack last season. And James has changed that, as well. His team attack better and has what it takes to outsmart every defence. Yesterday, Kerala Blasters attacked with all guns blazing, but their attackers have not, yet, been able to be clinical in front of the goal and that has been the actual reason behind Kerala's streak of draws.
James' faith in Slavisa Stojanovic and Matej Poplatnik has paid its dividends as this foreign duo has managed to trouble all defences they have faced so far this season, and this was on display against Pune City, as well. What the fans expect are similar performances, and what the team want to do is to capitalize on opportunities.
Was James in the making of an invincible squad or was he struggling to find an ultimate squad? Notwithstanding, only time will tell who was right.