ISL 2018-19: How Kerala Blasters' season went from bad to worse under David James
The hype and the popularity David James enjoyed during his second tenure as the coach of Kerala Blasters was enormous. Massive cutouts of James, CK Vineeth, and Sandesh Jhingan did appear around the streets of Kerala and the fans believed James could do a repeat of what he achieved in the first season of ISL.
The enormous hype David James had, can be attributed to the disappointment fans faced under Rene Meulensteen in the last season of ISL. James appeared out of nowhere mid-season in 2017-18 and the performance levels had spiked, in comparison to what Mulensteen could achieve.
The Good – Till October 2018
James was given a 3-year contract and he started a hiring spree at Blasters signing a crop of younger players looking at the development in the long run. Dheeraj Singh was the pick among the many he signed for Kerala Blasters. The signs were all good then that many ardent fans believed that Kerala Blasters had a good future with David James.
David James was also influential in arranging a wonderful pre-season tournament for Kerala Blasters in Kochi which had the likes of Girona FC and Melbourne City FC participating. Though the results were disastrous for Kerala, nobody pointed fingers at James as this was supposed to be a learning curve for the players playing against real quality opposition.
The pre-season of ISL 2018-19 went fast and Kerala Blasters overpowered ATK 2-0 in the opening game of ISL 2018-19 and the stocks of David James started flying high.
The Bad – October 2018
After the Initial win against ATK, it was all downhill for Kerala in the 2018-19 season. The next 4 games ended in a draw for them with Kerala conceding late goals in the matches from a winning position.
The fans were frustrated but felt that luck was not on their side. David James did not receive much criticism for his tactics during this period in October when all the Kerala fans believed that the team can post a win on any day. The fans instead were focused on the players who missed chances in front of the goal. CK Vineeth, who was having a poor run of form was targeted the most by few irresponsible fans.
After 5 games in the season, Kerala was still unbeaten and had 7 points in the kitty.
The Ugly– November and December 2018
The season worsened when Kerala started losing matches from then on. What followed were defeats at the hands of Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, and North East United FC and a draw with bottom-ranked Chennaiyin FC. This series of unacceptable defeats saw the fans questioning the tactics of David James. His long ball tactics which were earlier criticized by Dimitar Berbatov after the last season started doing rounds everywhere. All the Kerala fans started to understand now what Berbatov had implied then.
Calls for sacking David James went up as the results which James produced this season was very much similar to what Rene Mulensteen had produced in the last season. The official fan group of Kerala Blasters even went to the extent of boycotting the match against Jamshedpur FC and the audience turnout for that match was the lowest in Kochi stadium ever in ISL. The Kerala management though did not take any hasty calls and stood behind David James. But the results did not improve in December.
Kerala drew with Jamshedpur FC, lost to another bottom-ranked team FC Pune City and got hammered down 6-1 against Mumbai City FC before the international break in ISL 2018-19. The Mumbai match was the final nail in the coffin of David James and Kerala Blasters management sacked him after 2 days.
What’s the future of Kerala Blasters?
The international break for AFC Asian Cup was a blessing in disguise for the Kerala management as they got the time to ponder what went wrong this season. To have a good experience coach take over was one of the prime priorities and Nelo Vingada was happy to be that man for Kerala.
With the ISL 2018-19 season pretty much over for Kerala, the remaining 6 matches will be a test to showcase that everything is not gloomy for the Kochi side. Nelo Vingada does have the Indian football experience and will be looking forward to extending his contract (till May 2019) to a long term one with Kerala Blasters.