Kochi will witness history when A-League side Melbourne City FC take the field against Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters on Tuesday evening in the opening fixture of Toyota Yaris LaLiga World, India's first ever pre-season tournament involving foreign clubs.
Although it's just pre-season, Melbourne City's head coach, Warren Joyce has some clear objectives in mind. He believes that the two matches, against Kerala and Girona FC, will be of utmost importance because they will set the tone for the upcoming season.
"We are really looking forward to playing in India. We have very important two games coming up, important because these are our first two games of the season," he tells Sportskeeda before adding, "The goal is to win, of course. You want to win every match and we are here to do just that."
"But, obviously, pre-seasons are planned about training junior players before they get out there, getting the ambience right and the style, making sure they are not vulnerable.
"This trip is all about the players getting to know one another well, spending time together. It's important the players don't pick up any injuries, also. You know, just the normal things that a team would look to obtain from pre-season," he continues.
When asked if he was aware of Kerala's vociferous fan base and Indian football in general, Joyce says, "Yeah, I have heard how passionate the Kerala fans are about the game. It's an exciting opportunity for us to play in front of them. Of course, they will be cheering for the home team but the players are looking forward to playing in such an atmosphere.
"I am a big fan of cricket. So, I know that Sachin Tendulkar is involved. I know that Berbatov and Brown were playing for the club, and I have heard how they have enjoyed football in India. I know David James, John Gregory...they have been doing well here."
The Kochi weather is infamous for being hot and humid but Joyce is not really worried about that. In fact, he believes it will help his players because the weather in Australia during summers is quite warm itself.
"I'm not really concerned about the weather. During summers, it gets quite hot in Australia too. They play in that heat so the players will relish taking it as a challenge, I think. In a way, we are actually happy to be in warmer climates for the pre-season (it's winter in Australia now)," he says.
As a manager, Joyce has a glittering CV. After he brought an end to a 19-year playing career, the Englishman began his coaching career at Royal Antwerp. He then spent eight years at one of the most successful youth academies in the world at Manchester United, training and shaping the careers of some of the biggest names -- Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, among others -- in world football today.
Having worked in close proximity with one of the greatest managers of all times, Sir Alex Ferguson, Joyce has indeed picked up a few things. As he says, "There are many things that you pick up from Sir Alex. The big one for me was to see his personality, the way he conducted himself and the way he responded in situations. I try to imbibe these into my players, you know, that undying spirit...to fight until the last whistle."
In 2016, Joyce was appointed as the manager of Championship club Wigan Athletic before he eventually joined Melbourne City. In his very first season with the City Blues, he led them to their best-ever finish (third) in the A-League.
As someone who has been in the business for a long, long time, Joyce does know a thing or two about identifying talent and nurturing them. "I've been working in youth development for a long time. The first things you notice in a player are technique, athleticism and quality...then, it's a process of nourishing and sharpening those skills and developing a few more," he says.
Joyce also reveals that he and the club will be on the lookout for young talents while in India. "Yes obviously, we will be looking out for any young Indian talent who impresses on the pitch during the tournament. It's another important aspect of this tour.
"I think it is a big opportunity for them to impress. Scouts are always present in such pre-season tournaments. If any player catches the eye...if any Indian player can impress...you never know," he says.
"Then, our own young players are also coming on the trip and they have got a great chance to showcase their skills, to show how good they can be, and book a spot in the first team. It's been good so far with the club. There are different challenges, good grounds, good funds. Overall, I enjoyed my first season in Australia and am looking forward to the next," he concludes.Published 24 Jul 2018, 18:12 IST