The Kochi-based outfit are currently seventh in the table with a win, six draws, and four defeats in the season so far.
On December 4, 2018, Kerala Blasters, for the first time in five years, played a home match in front of a largely empty Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Three days later, on December 7, the Blasters played another home match in front of largely empty stands, again. This had looked inevitable for a long time and this month it finally happened.
It may come as a surprise for the Indian football fraternity who have, time and again, borne witness to the fans thronging to the stadium in numbers, mimicking the famous Icelandic Viking claps and Mexican waves, riveting attraction from football fans across the globe.
A look back at what had happened in days that preceded this match, gives premonition for Kerala Blasters and their management.
Kerala Blasters Vs Jamshedpur FC
Kerala Blasters had just drawn another game in the ISL, against arch-rivals Chennaiyin FC. It was a game Kerala Blasters could have easily won but they squandered opportunities they got. Meanwhile, Chennaiyin FC, too, had chances to put the game to bed.
Kerala Blasters fans had already become frustrated with their team’s performance. It was not what their fans had expected. They had been disappointed with David James‘ selections and the team’s inconsistency. And to make their dissonance evident to the management, many factions of Kerala Blasters fans exhorted to boycott the match.
Opinions were divided, however. A vast majority, including Kerala Blasters 12th Player, urged the fans to boycott. Meanwhile, Manjappada Kerala Blasters Fans conducted an online poll, asking their fans to vote for or against boycotting the match, claiming their stand would be the same as that of the majority.
The Blasters have been dissapointing this season with poor displays
18.4k people voted, 85% supported boycotting, and the remaining 15% voted against. Manjappada Kerala Blasters Fans released an official statement on their Facebook page, sending a clear warning to the management. However, one sentence read, “We don’t intend to boycott our club’s matches as our moto itself is ‘Nammalk Nammalund'”.
For ISL authorities and Kerala Blasters, it was not just another home match, German legend Lothar Matthaus had been in attendance. They would have expected a large turnout for that match, but only 8451 came.
And on the pitch, Kerala Blasters delivered one of their best performance to date in ISL 5. They looked dominant and exhilarated the audience with an attacking brand of football. However, goals, as usual, did not come.
In the end, #EmptyChallenge worked out and the impact was there for everyone to see.
Kerala Blasters Vs FC Pune City
The scenario had changed for this game. Fans had started to advocate for #FillTheStadium campaign and Kerala Blasters fans groups, including Manjappada Kerala Blasters Fans, supported it. With the situation opposite, an almost filled Jawaharlal Nehru stadium had been expected.
In spite of fans posting hundreds of posts in Facebook backing #FillTheStadium campaign, only a little more than 8451 came to watch the game. Despite the positivity in the Social Media, fans had become tired of supporting a club that disappoints you at the end of the game.
And, in the match, Kerala Blasters lost to FC Pune City in a game they should have won to keep their playoff hopes alive. Their performance looked frustrating and disappointing. They misplaced passes and gave away possession frequently.
And in the end, #FillTheStadium campaign failed to work out. It gives a clear sign of things to come and if results don’t go in favour of Kerala Blasters, this team which, in the past, had fans to fill the stadium will have to play their home games in front of a largely empty Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, again and again.
Are youngsters the reason for Kerala Blasters’ dismal performance?
With Kerala Blasters still struggling to find the right formula and strike the right chords, it remains to be seen where they are heading next. David James recently said they had not been expecting to reach finals in year one.
Even if Kerala Blasters are working on a project that looks at the future of the club, are they losing games because of those youngsters they have? Is the club losing games because of Dheeraj Singh? Are they struggling to register victories because of Sahal? Are they not thriving under pressure because of Rakip and Lalruatthara? Is David James’ side not scoring goals because of Prasanth?
David James has bought the wrath of the fans upon him with poor selections and tactics
They have players like Narzary, Doungel and Jhingan, but there are players who have immense experience playing in the league and have played for the national team. So, putting them in the same bracket alongside players like Sahal and Dheeraj is overstating the situation.
So the real problem is not the developing youngsters. Coach David James has often looked clueless and has failed to use substitutes effectively. Against FC Pune City, James replaced Holicharan Narzary with Suraj Rawat. The coach could have gone for Matej Poplatnik, given Kerala Blasters were under immense pressure to deliver a result, but he didn’t. Decisions like this bring concerns over the qualities James has as a coach.
It is high time for the management to act. With the decline in numbers a warning of things to come, management must make decisions, that will have positive impacts, quickly. It is already late, but better late than never, someone said.