Kerala Blasters have enjoyed a huge fan base right from the first edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014. But barring the three occasions in which they finished runner-up, it has been largely disappointing for the Manjappada (Yellow Army).
But one man has given them real hope – Ivan Vukomanovic. The Serb took Blasters close to their maiden ISL title last season before losing to Hyderabad FC on penalties in the final.
Blasters began their campaign in ISL 2022-23 with a 3-1 win over East Bengal FC in Kochi last week. Vukomanovic, whose contract with Blasters has been extended till 2025, spoke to Onmanorama in an online interaction.
Three goals and three points in front of a packed stadium. Just the perfect start?
Yeah, it was a big game. The fans were returning to the stadium after a long gap. You could feel it in the air. The Kochi crowd and Kerala were waiting for this game. The win was crucial for us. It was a great experience for us and it was a treat for the fans.
Your first impressions of the home crowd?
They were awesome. On entering the ground we could feel it. The fans make us powerful. That’s why I saluted or bowed to them. They made the players go forward all the time. They can make it intimidating for the other teams.
Blasters next meet ATK Mohun Bagan…
It’s another home game (on Sunday). Technically and tactically there won’t be much change. ATK are one of the big favourites for the title. They are a strong team. We will prepare as best as we can.
How important are early points or early momentum?
We want to collect points. Last season our first win was in only our fourth game and still we made it to the play-offs. On the other hand, there were a couple of teams who started strongly and yet could not qualify. It’s a long season. We have to be clever and stay humble. We have to remain calm.
Could you point out the biggest plus and also the main concern after the opening game?
The crowd was the biggest plus. They were the 12th man. They were enormous. As for the minus, you want to get better all the time whether it be the technical things, tactics, ball possession or set-pieces. You want to improve in all these aspects.
Unlike the past couple of seasons where the teams stayed in a bio-bubble, there will be a lot of travelling this time around. Will it be a challenge?
That’s football. They are used to it. You will have to spend time travelling and waiting in airports, trains and buses. As an ex-footballer and coach, I am used to it. You have to adapt.
There was only one Keralite (Sahal Abdul Samad) in the starting XI against East Bengal. Can we expect more home-grown players in the coming games?
Absolutely. We take pride in our youth teams. They have been playing in the Durand Cup. We want to give the local boys a chance to showcase their skills.