ISL is in the process of a huge expansion, says new Blasters coach Vukomanovic

The Kerala side is aiming for a first play-off finish in five seasons and has new manager Vukomanovic at its helm, for the upcoming season to help achieve that goal and go beyond.

Ivan Vukomanovic

Ivan Vukomanovic became Kerala Blasters' 10th head coach appointment in eight seasons as the club continues its hunt for a maiden ISL title.   -  Special Arrangement

Ivan Vukomanovic will be Kerala Blasters' 10th managerial appointment in eight seasons. And the club’s technical director Karolis Skinkys feels the new manager is the ideal person to fulfill the club’s ambitions.  

“I think Ivan is the right fit for this big challenge and responsibility, someone who can handle the pressure,” he says. 

The Kerala side is aiming for a first play-off finish in five seasons and a first Indian Super League (ISL) title and Vukamonovic is excited to be a part of an ambitious project in an expanding ISL. 

“For half of my life, I have been in football as a player and as a coach,” says the Serbian. “I like challenges and I think the ISL is in the process of a huge expansion. Every year, it will get better and better. I like being part of an important project like this which gives me the adrenaline and atmosphere. Without all that, it's not football for me.” 

A defender during his 15-year-long playing career, Vukomanovic has won league titles at Red Star Belgrade and played for Bordeaux among several European clubs.

After starting out as an assistant coach at Belgium club Standard Liege, he was appointed in a full-time capacity and delivered positive results.

His managerial debut came against Sevilla in the Europa League. Liege, however, removed him from the position citing ‘lack of experience’ and offered him the assistant's role, which he declined. 

He then went on to coach Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia), winning the domestic cup, and Apollon Limassol (Cyprus).

The 44-year-old, who last coached in 2019, was not a stranger to the ISL when Blasters came calling. “I had plenty of information [on the league]. Today, the TV package you get at home... you get several football leagues and sports channels. For several years now, I have ISL on my TV. I have seen several ISL matches over the years, and I have found it interesting,” he says. 

“From the very first moment, I recognised the professionalism and professional approach [from KBFC]. I recognised that these are people with good know-how, and I felt that positive energy from the owner and the club’s management and that gave me good vibrations. When I saw what’s going around Kerala Blasters, especially the huge fan base, with all the huge energy and positive approach, it was immediately a yes.”

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The new season is again set to be played in the coastal state from November 19 in a bio-bubble and Vukomanovic is leaving no stone unturned to have the best possible preparation. 

Vukomanovic touched down in Kochi last week along with his coaching staff and Skinkys ahead of the pre-season.

While he is confident of matching the high expectations of the fanatical Blasters supporters, he expects everyone involved at the club to pull in the same direction to achieve the result. 

“In football, like many other sports, there is a process that you have to respect. If you want to build up nice things, then you need to respect the process because nothing happens overnight. There are many others around you and depends on many other details. We all need to work with our noses in the right direction,” Vukomanovic says. 

The club has already brought attacking midfielder Adrian Luna from the A-League and defender Enes Sipovic, who played for Chennaiyin FC last season.

Big-name foreign signings have underperformed for Blasters in recent seasons and Vukomanovic says he is not guided by star names when operating in the transfer market. 

“We want players who will bring something extra, make a difference, and are capable of playing under pressure. I like seeing my players giving everything and making the jersey wet. The name and fame are no guarantee for good results,” he says. 

Vukomanovic’s targets for the season are manifold: “we would like to improve in many aspects; have a better season than last year, build a good team to be at the top of the table. We don’t have one goal. We want the right mentality of not giving up."

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