Hurdles many but Blasters coach Schattorie ready for the tough ride

A new captain and new faces grace the Blasters' lineup, but few pre-season games and injuries remain a cause for concern for the ISL side.

Kerala Blasters has a new look now but having played just three pre-season games so far, Schattorie's job of getting the right mix will not be easy.   -  Kerala Blasters

This was not the way Eelco Schattorie had imagined his first few days at the Kerala Blasters FC would turn out to be. The Kochi-based club had to cancel its Indian Super League pre-season tour of the UAE early last month, a few days after it was announced, owing to a breach of contract by the event organisers.

And then, there were the backline issues to trouble the new head coach.

For sure, beginnings are tough.

“Our pre-season, till now, has been difficult. That has nothing to do with lack of quality from the club's side, just some bad luck,” said the Dutchman in a chat with Sportstar on Tuesday.

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The other concern is injuries. "From the first day, Mario Arques was injured, he is still not fit. Jairo, our centre-back, also got injured in the first week, he is getting back now. And last week, Gianni Zuiverloon got injured, so all my defence line, till now, is injured."

Centre-back Sandesh Jhingan currently finds himself juggling his club workload with national duty. After a break of two weeks, he is soon to leave for the FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh.

“We haven't played one match with our strongest backline. But we still have three weeks and hopefully that time is enough to really prepare the team.”

Schattorie comes with the handsome reputation of having guided NorthEast United FC to the ISL playoffs for the first time ever last season. That is something that the club, which finished near the bottom last year, and its fans desperately long for.

The team has a new look now and the good news is that Schattorie has brought with him Nigeria-born Frenchman Bartholomew Ogbeche, second in the ISL's goal-scorers list last season with 12 goals, to boost a side that had many problems up front.

The side includes seven new foreigners but having played just three pre-season games so far, Schattorie's job of getting the right mix will not be easy.

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“Normally, you get a good feeling if you have five to six pre-season games. If you're been married for a long time, you build a relationship with your wife. She knows everything about you, you know everything about her. It's the same with a football team -  the more you play together, the more you get to know each other,” explained the 47-year-old.

The Blasters have the biggest fan base in the ISL (Manjappada), but with things looking gloomy, the club played a few games in a near-empty Nehru Stadium here last season. What does he think about that?

“We can look at it in two ways. Sometimes, teams lose and then you try to improve. But I believe as long as we work hard, if we do everything we can to make it as good as possible for the team, then we want our fans to be supportive,” said the head coach.

“If somehow, me or my staff or the players are not giving it their all, then you have all the right to criticize. But it has to be a good relationship, trying to build a good atmosphere, because the supporters can give an extra dimension to the players to get the result that we all deserve.”

New guard, old routine

Striker Bartholomew Ogbeche will lead the Kerala Blasters FC in the sixth edition of the Indian Super League which opens in Kochi on October 20 with a match against ATK.

The 34-year-old, who played in the 2002 World Cup for Nigeria, was with the main squad of Paris Saint-Germain at 17 and made his ISL debut last year with NorthEast United FC.

 

“In India, there is a tradition that the oldest player, who has the most knowledge, is chosen as the captain. Sandesh (Jhingan) was the captain last season. Bart is almost a grandfather and to back it up, he comes with great knowledge,” said Schattorie, half in jest, while announcing the new captain.

“At the same time, I worked with Bart last year, we had a good relationship and he has good leadership qualities. Sandesh also has good leadership qualities but Bart, being more experienced and the eldest, we came to the conclusion that he is the best for the team.”

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