ISL 2018/19: Manjappada boycott, Cyberbullying and more - 5 things Kerala Blasters got wrong this season
The Kochi-based franchise marked the beginning of the season with an impressive away win against ATK, but soon embarked on a forgetful run that unceremoniously derailed their hopes of making it to the playoffs even before the mid-season break.
David James’ men produced their worst ever run in the history of the competition after the win over ATK in September, as they went on a 14-game winless run, before securing a win against Chennaiyin FC in February.
The Englishman was sacked a few days after the Blasters’ biggest defeat in the competition, that came against Mumbai City FC just ahead of the winter break, and were down and out in terms of pushing for a playoff spot by then.
Nelo Vingada, who was appointed as the successor to James on an interim basis, was tasked with the job of sticking plasters towards the fag end of the season with the Blasters finishing second-bottom in the end.
In addition to their disappointing ISL campaign, the Blasters were handed another demoralising setback in the Hero Super Cup, when they were dumped in the qualifiers by the Indian Arrows to cap off a forgetful season in dreadful fashion.
There are several factors that played a telling role in the Kerala Blasters’ downfall during the fifth edition of the ISL and in this segment, we will take a closer look at them. Without further delay, let’s analyze five things that went wrong for the 'Men In Yellow' during their 2018/19 campaign:
#1 Manjappada boycott and the alarming attendance drop in Kochi
In the wake of the Kerala Blasters’ dismal performances on the pitch under David James, a section of the official fan group of the club, the Manjappada (Yellow Army), decided to boycott the game against Jamshedpur FC in December as a way carrying out their protest.
Several tifos, including one in particular that read “Supporters, not customers”, were unveiled by the fans at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium, as the once iconic venue witnessed an alarming dwindle in the attendance figures that dropped down to around 8,000 for the first time ever.
Results hardly improved at home for the Blasters, apart from that impressive win over Chennaiyin FC that put an end to winless run at home for over a year, as the numbers kept declining on the stands with every passing game in Kochi.
There were hardly any signs of the fans getting back on similar terms with the team even after the win against Chennaiyin and the attendance figures were as low as 4,000 in the final couple of games at the venue.
It almost seems like the fans are waging a war against the management and the cracks are already evident in their distasteful relationship, that has in one way or another, hindered the team’s progress.
#2 CK Vineeth and Cyberbullying – Still a better love story than Twilight
If their performances on the pitch were not enough to grab the headlines, the Kerala Blasters were shell-shocked when their leading goal-scorer was in the news for apparently speaking out against the fans.
CK Vineeth, who etched his name into the history books at the club after overtaking Iain Hume as the all-time leading goal-scorer this term, quickly went from hero to villain in what worked out as a dramatic fallout between him and the fans.
The striker has been a victim of cyberbullying in the past and decided to take action against the official fan group after they had alleged him of misconduct with a ball boy in Kochi.
The incident happened after he was loaned out to Chennaiyin FC and returned to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in February during the defending champions’ 3-0 defeat against the Blasters.
Vineeth filed an official complaint against the Manjappada for defaming him with false accusations via social media and the official fan group were forced to write an apology to the player.
However, the incident was not cooked overnight and after his departure to Chennaiyin FC, it had been brewing in the background for a while with all that has been happening at the club.
An esteemed daily had produced an article on how Vineeth had openly suggested he wanted to leave the club due to the unforgiving backlash received from the fans and subsequently the report was taken down and termed as if the events in the same never happened.
We don’t know the exact truth behind all that, but it is hard not to notice what transpired into an embarrassing fallout between arguably one of the biggest stars in the history of the club.
#3 Affording the time and luxury to David James
David James was revered by many as an icon ahead of the fifth edition of the ISL and it was justified due to his heroics with the team in the inaugural edition of the tournament.
The Englishman was called upon to steady the ship after Rene Meulensteen was sacked midway through 2017/18 season and eventually ended up penning a long-term contract to undertake a ‘project’ in Kochi.
However, the ‘project’ failed miserably during his first full season as full-time manager of Kerala Blasters as the club went on their worst ever run in the competition that subsequently spelled the end for his ill-fated tenure at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium.
Despite venturing out into a point of no return with his meek tactics that led to fallout with the fans, James was afforded time and luxury at the club, until they decided it was time wield the axe after the embarrassing defeat to Mumbai City in December.
The team were going nowhere under the guidance of the former England international and it is quite baffling to think he was afforded the time that not many managers get in their respective jobs.
Perhaps the Kerala Blasters were willing to play the patient game due to the long-term contract that tied him to the club or maybe it was their inability to find an ideal successor before parting ways with him.
However, the one thing that became clear during his spell at the club was that he had no idea about his side’s best abilities or combinations. Some of his opinions on aspects during press conferences went to the extent that you would start questioning his credibility as a professional manager.
The lack of urgency shown by the Kerala Blasters board meant the damage was already heavily inflicted by the time James departed and it subsequently ended their hopes of finishing in a playoff spot.
#4 Lacklustre recruitment policy
Ahead of the fifth edition of the ISL, the Kerala Blasters adopted a recruitment policy they believed could build something special for the future of the club.
All of their four foreign recruits that joined the club in the form of Matej Poplatnik, Slavisa Stojanovic, Nikola Krcmarevic and Cyril Kali were newcomers to the division.
David James stressed these players were handpicked since they have the potential to grow and become even better in the future.
However, what transpired from the Blasters’ foreign contingent was mediocre performances as they criminally underperformed for the team whenever it mattered the most.
Poplatnik and Stojanovic got off to a flying start at ATK during the inaugural game but never hit similar strides again during the season.
Both Krcmarevic and Kali were plagued by minor but persistent injuries from time to time and never really settled down at the club and gave a lasting impression of themselves.
Although there was a lot of promise in terms of the Indian internationals who joined the Blasters in the form of Anas Edathodika and Halicharan Narzary, both players were shadows of their former self and were also below par on numerous instances.
Kerala Blasters’ recruitment policy was thoroughly exploited as the season progressed and in comparison, teams like North East United proved that bringing in quality players doesn’t always require a hefty backing of funds.
#5 (Sym)pathetic player retention
The Kerala Blasters retained three foreign players from the previous season for the fifth edition of the ISL.
All of Nemanja Lakic-Pesic, Courage Pekuson and Keziron Kizito were handed another year with the Kochi-based franchise as they aimed at making it to the playoffs.
However, their retention policy backfired tremendously as these three foreign recruits flattered to deceive for the majority of the season.
Lakic-Pesic’s decline was evident from the start with the defender severely lacking in pace and even struggling at playing out from the back, something he has done with good effect in the past.
On the other hand, Pekuson and Kizito were largely bit-part players under David James and it was quite baffling to see them being retained and not being used frequently.
Even when they were called upon in the first half of the season, both players looked rusty and did nothing whatsoever to stake their claim in the playing eleven.
Nelo Vingada’s appointment proved to be a shot in the arm for the duo, but their performances haven’t been at the level of some of the other foreign players retained by teams in the division and it again raises questions on the club’s recruitment as well as retention policy.
While Bengaluru FC and FC Goa, the teams who contested the finals, retained the likes of Miku and Coro, the Blasters parted ways with Dimitar Berbatov on a sour note and let go of their top-scorer from the previous season in the form of Iain Hume.
Another player who was neglected by the Blasters, Jackichand Singh, also found solace under Sergio Lobera at FC Goa in the fifth edition of the tournament and emerged as one of the star Indian performers of the season.