To add to the list of some forgettable Indian Soccer League (ISL) seasons, Kerala Blasters FC (KBFC) endured another one in 2020-21. This time round they finished second from the bottom in the 11-team league. The “Manjapadas” (Yellow Brigade) only managed three victories and ended the season with 17 points. The first casualty of this disaster happened to be the coach Kibu Vicuna, who was forced to bid adieu to the team. Will this move have any bearing in the next season? Only time will tell.
In an indication of how bad this season would turn out to be, the “Manjapadas” got two big jolts as Sandesh Jhingan, their longest-serving player and the lynchpin of the squad, made an exit from the team on mutual consent and Bartholomew Ogbeche left for the City Football Group Revolution at Mumbai City FC under Sergio Lobera. However, everyone thought the severity of these calamities will be lessened with the entry of I-League winning coach Kibu Vicuna as the Spaniard had previously won the I-League title with the Mohun Bagan. But, this minor relief was short-lived as the Yellow Brigade began on a losing note. In fact, they had to wait for seven games for their first win. By the end, the team had just two more victories. It was pretty much evident that the KBFC players were not at all in sync with the strategy and vision of Kibu.
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This season only had a few positives for Kerala Blasters. Out of their three victories, the last one happened to be a bit heartwarming. They registered the third and last win of the season splendidly by pipping Bengaluru FC to the post through the last gasp goal by Rahul KP. This effort paid big-time for Rahul, Indian midfielder, as he got picked in the national team’s preliminary squad for the friendlies against UAE and Oman. This was something to rejoice for the Blasters in an otherwise disappointing season.
Where they erred?
Problems were aplenty for the blasters. The strikers’ helplessness to score goals, shaky defence and injuries were some of the woes afflicting the team. With the arrival of Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone and Nishu Kumar, everyone thought that the team has found the right balance but that was not to be. The yellow brigade gave away 36 goals, second only to Odisha, who gifted 44 more. The biggest disappointment came in the form of Garry Hooper. The former Celtic and Norwich City target man was touted as the valuable forward for the season, however, the Englishman hardly lived up to the top billing. However, he scored a magnificent goal against ATK Mohun Bagan, but it turned out to be inadequate in the end.
The Way Forward
The Kerala Blasters would do well to forget these debacles as quickly as possible. This season was just short of being an utterly disappointing one as it turned out to be their joint-second worst season of the ISL. In fact, the 2018-19 season, happened to be their worst with just two victories. So, what is the way forward for the Blasters? Their star strikers should net the ball more often than not and the leaky defence needs to be plugged. Therefore, the new Kerala Blasters FC head coach Ivan Vukomanovic, the Serbian who coached in the top divisions of Belgium, Slovakia and Cyprus, has a mountain to climb in the 2021-22 season.