It’s your second year with the Blasters. Last year, you came straight into the bubble but this year, the team got to spend a good amount of time in Kochi. What are your thoughts on the preseason till now?
I‘m happy that the club was able to give this long preseason for us.
We brought in a new Coaching staff so, getting this extra time to know the players, to feel the football realities in India was important. We had 2.5 months of training from August to October before entering the bubble whereas last year, during the same time frame we already had played 5-6 ISL matches. This extra preparation is a huge positive, especially for the new coaching staff.
We resumed training on 24th, after quarantine, with everyone but the U23 National Team players. All players are fit and motivated and we‘re looking forward to the next and final 4 weeks of preparation.
Overall, I’m really happy with the preseason until now. It gave good time for the coaching to feel the team, to start work from basics, and for players to build connections. We would‘ve ideally liked some of the foreign players, whose arrivals were delayed due to visa procedures, to join sooner but they‘re here now and have time to get fully fit and adapt to the team.
Blasters had a few of the players from the reserve side train with the main team as well both during the individual sessions in April as well as in Kochi since August. How do you see their progress and what are the further plans for them?
The individual training activity was effective to give players more football during the off-season. I was happy to see not only the reserve team players but also some senior players like Sahal and Prashanth working during this time with high motivation.
Overall, we are still quite a young team and many players got their chance to make it to the first team. I don‘t want to list name by name, but a reserve team player who is coming to the test period in preseason should be ready to prove that he is better than others, especially reserve players who are already 20 years old or even more. Moving forward, we intend to have more players between the ages of 16-18 years participating during the pre-season period because it takes time to cultivate young players from the academy. Sahal and Ayush are good examples of this having spent two pre-seasons before getting a final call up to the senior team. We place a great emphasis on giving young players a chance to showcase themselves but at the same time, they need to also be patient.
Over the last 6-8 months especially, we‘ve put bigger attention and resources to enhance the structure. All players who joined this preseason have different situations. Goalkeeper Sachin and central defender Bijoy are still with the team in Goa. They showed good progress and they are still at an age where they will continue to improve. Similarly, our intention for some other reserve players who showed good progress during this pre-season period is to get them more playing time either with the reserves or on loans.
The team has announced a partnership with the State government regarding academies and is also looking at starting a women’s team. What are your thoughts on this vision?
Firstly, we would like to thank the state government for giving us the opportunity to build the men‘s academy. This partnership gives the club big potential to create a great youth system. Very soon, we will start scouting for the 2003-2005 age group across all 14 districts in Kerala followed by scouting for the two younger age groups. We are actively working on developing tournaments and leagues for the future that will further ensure young players get maximum games.
Yes, we will have a women‘s team very soon. Women‘s team helps to involve more people in the club, get more interest in football, and build a wider spectrum of traditions around the club. We will create good conditions for our women‘s team.
The Blasters have 2 players in the national team and 4 players called up to the U23 National Team. This must be a proud feeling for everyone at the club. How does it affect the current preparations?
Yes, it‘s a proud feeling for the club and players. I‘m happy that players went to the national team. They gain different experiences and most importantly, they must always feel this pride to play for their country. Of course, it’s not ideal to face a situation like Jeakson‘s who was invited to both training camps – Seniors and U23. So, this preseason he‘s spent more time with the national teams than with us and he will finish quarantine only 7-8 days before the first official game.
I think that currently in a team we have more players who have the potential to reach the national team level in the nearest years. We are a young squad, so in the upcoming years we only can get better
What are your goals for this season and where can we see Kerala Blasters five years down the lane according to your vision?
We are a club that always gets more attention and pressure, so it is important not to overthink short-term targets and instead focus on improvement. At the moment we are in the transition from a young team to a result-orientated team. The expectation for this season is to take a step forward, to be a well-organized team, and to build a tough mentality. We have enough quality to have a good season, but I don’t want to talk about short-term targets. We will talk about it inside of the team.
With time, of course, we want to build a team that thinks about championships and AFC Champions League, but the first step is to achieve consistency. We want to first consistently compete as a top 4 team and then focus on the highest targets.