C.K. Vineeth: 'Winning is an addiction, never a pressure'

Kerala Blasters’ talisman C.K. Vineeth, who transformed the fortunes of his side after returning from parent club Bengaluru F.C., believes the team is under no pressure going into the Indian Super League season three final against Atletico de Kolkata on Sunday.

The ISL season three final between Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata will be played in Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Sunday.   -  ISL

You would think 60,000 loud fans cheering for you in a tournament final would be too much pressure for even senior professionals to handle.

Yet, Kerala Blasters’ talisman C.K. Vineeth, who transformed the fortunes of his side after returning from parent club Bengaluru F.C., believes the team is under no pressure going into the Indian Super League season three final against Atletico de Kolkata (ATK).

“Winning for me is an addiction. Plus we have the advantage of the fans cheering for us. So there is no pressure in playing the finals,” said a confident sounding Vineeth, in a pre-match press conference, which was also attended by ATK players Jewel Raja, Abinash Ruidas, and his own team-mate Sandip Nandy.

West Bengal-born Ruidas, who has been one of ATK’s stars this season operating on the wings (left-side predominantly), also spoke about the nerves in the build-up towards the final.

“It’s my first ISL season and I’ve had tremendous support from experienced players in the team like Javi (Lara), Iain Hume and (Helder) Postiga. These are players who have represented big clubs and they give you off-field advices too such as how to take rest ahead of the match and how to keep calm in pressure situations,” said the 22-year-old, who is used to high-pressure matches having played in the Calcutta-derby for I-League club East Bengal.

ATK coach Jose Molina surprised everyone by picking Jewel Raja to play against Mumbai City F.C. in the semifinal second-leg, but he repaid the manager’s faith by winning six tackles in a feisty goalless draw.

The 26-year-old was happy to credit his success to the team’s senior pros. “The likes of Borja Fernandes, who has played for big Spanish teams, have been giving us advice on were to position ourselves, when to make the right runs etc. It has made a huge impact on us Indian players,” said Raja.

Vineeth was part of the Kerala Blasters squad that performed poorly in the ISL season two but his, and the team’s form, has changed dramatically this year. But the forward, who hails from Northern Kerala town Kannur, was quick to quench any suggestion that his previous season’s failures had motivated him to do well.

“I have forgotten about last season. I was confident that I can come and make a mark in this team. Kerala is my home,” said the Blasters forward.

Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy was the star for Kerala when it beat Delhi Dynamos in the semifinal penalty shoot-out. The 41-year-old, who missed out on the inaugural season final due to an injury, was all-praise for the home support, and said the players are focused on winning the cup for the fans.

“I’m lucky to play for Kerala Blasters. We have the most beautiful fans. It will great for us to play the final in front of our home crowd. It will be a tough match because ATK is a strong team. But we are ready to fight. We want to return something to the fans for everything they have done for us,” said Nandy.

The ‘keeper also took time to clarify the comments he made on ISL’s refereeing standards after the match against Delhi Dynamos. “It was something I said in the heat of the moment. In my entire playing career I have said nothing against the officials. I spoke to the referee also about it. I want no controversies,” said the former Indian national team keeper.

Kerala, a traditional football hotspot in the country, has had very little to no representation in country’s top division football, with the last team to play in the I-League being Chirag United (erstwhile Viva Kerala), which was dissolved in 2012 due to ownership and payment issues.

Vineeth, one among the many Kerala players who had moved out of the state for better opportunities, stressed on the importance to have an I-League team from the state. “I haven’t made any studies on why clubs are struggling in Kerala, but it is important to have representation in top leagues if you want local talent to come up,” said the forward.

The ISL season three final between Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata will be played in Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Sunday.

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