While Kerala Blasters fans are more than thrilled for the upcoming season, given the stars that have come their way, their manager Eelco Schattorie will be totally engrossed in how to make an elaborate plan work, especially after he more than convinced the management to water out money.
While a team loaded with stars does wonders to attract the crowd, something went horribly wrong last season with the Manjappada resorting to boycotting Kerala matches as they were unhappy with David James’ tactics, the downside is their failure could have never-ending consequences. The Blasters have reached the final twice, losing to ATK on both occasions, but their other three finishes have been eighth, sixth and ninth, something that doesn’t inspire hope at all.
Hence, another failure this time and given how Gokhulam Kerala have been performing of late, the franchise could see themselves get sent to another city like what has happened to both FC Pune City and the Delhi Dynamos. Fortunately, however, Kerala have all the ingredients that could see them start performing as little as three weeks into the new season.
One look at last season’s league table and it could be easily discerned that the side struggled to create chances in the final third and consequently, struggled to score. And Schattorie, the shrewd tactician that he is, has taken care of that quite brilliantly by roping in Mario Arques almost as soon as the season ended. Bartholomew Ogbeche, on the other hand, is a brilliant foil to the creative Spaniard in the middle of the park.
Mario Arques was brought in by Cesar Ferrando last season when everyone thought Sergio Lobera had skimmed the entire cream of Spain’s fringe players into FC Goa. Coming in from the Spanish third-tier side CD Alcoyano, the player has been the epitome of composure and should become the lynchpin of this Kerala side.
Good possession play blended with gradual buildup and looking for the killer pass every minute of every game – this was Schattorie’s ploy all through last season and Arques’ qualities fit them impeccably. Not shy to ask for the ball regardless of extreme pressure, Arques could command the midfield and would be the perfect screen via which defence would transpire into the attack.
He scored thrice and assisted twice last season, but these numbers don’t do any justice to the brilliance he can produce. He also had 24 interceptions and attempted 1127 passes in total with an accuracy of 82.43% last season. In Jamshedpur, an injury-plagued side that was further reduced to bones by suspensions to Carlos Calvo and Gaurav Mukhi, the Spaniard never really played with a settled team. In Schattorie’s disciplined buildup and management, chances of that happening are less and Arques might reach the level he flirted with last season.
As far as an upgrade is concerned in their squad, Ogbeche would be the perfect example. The Frenchman adds finesse to the rugged frontline of Kerala Blasters. In the likes of Matej Poplatnik and Slavisa Stojanovic, Kerala was more a trial and error side. However, Schattorie’s slow buildup with the likes of Arques and Sergio Cidoncha should see the striker get much better chances inside the box and consequently, score more goals.
Ogbeche had an inconsistent Rowlin Borges and a mercurial Federico Gallego alongside him in NorthEast United FC, and the fact that he still managed 12 goals to his name, taking the side to the playoffs, speaks volumes about the player. The sturdy build of the forward also created problems in opponents’ defences and he could capitalize on that trait after having one season of experience already under his belt.
Getting big names at the back doesn’t always necessarily mean success, and Kerala learnt it the hard way. With the likes of Nemanja Lakic-Pesic and Cyril Kali leaving the squad, it is all but certain that Schattorie is looking for ball-playing defenders, who are comfortable with the ball at their feet. With Sandesh Jhingan the definition of a ball-playing defender, Gianni Zuiverloon could add that much-needed composure for the Blasters.
Obviously, nobody would look good if judged by where Delhi Dynamos finished last season, but Gianni’s numbers look really good. For a centre-half, the Dutch enforcer attempted 793 passes with a passing accuracy of 80.32%. He made an average of 40.65 passes per game, which is expected to increase vehemently under Schattorie’s philosophy. However, the most important reason why Kerala went for Gianni would definitely be his versatility to play both as the defensive midfielder as well as a central defender.
This isn’t the first time ISL sides have gone out of their way to spend on players and it won’t be the last one, but this could very well be the last one for Kerala if the trio fails to click this season. However, chances of that happening look narrow this time, unless they get injured, because of one and only one person – Eelco Schattorie. Unlike the likes of Steve Coppell, Schattorie has cracked the league in the very first attempt and would only improve from here on. And while the three above perfectly suits his sophisticated philosophy, the likes of Raphael Messi Bouli, Moustapha, and Jairo Rodrigues would help the new side familiarize with the rigours of ISL.
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