In Kibu Vicuna, Kerala Blasters have a determined head coach who has a very strong Plan A that he sticks to at all times.
He doesn't run away from challenges and tries his best to bring players together into the philosophy of football that he strongly believes in. That isn't to say Kibu would never come up with a backup plan but his first season in Indian football has given us a glimpse of how he approaches football. At Bagan, his plan worked wonders and helped the team secure the league title with four games left to play.
When he joined Mohun Bagan, there were a team that finished mid-table. And with Gokulam Kerala making smart moves in the transfer market, the Mariners were far from being favourites to land the title when the 2019-20 season kicked off. However, after a strong pre-season and a disciplined work ethic that was instilled into the squad, Vicuna turned things around. That is exactly what he is hoping to do with the Yellow Army as well.
"At every team, it is a challenge. We know that Kerala Blasters finished in the ninth and seventh positions in the last two seasons. Our job now is to create a good team, to try to play good football and create our own style with our own values. This is our duty, " he told Goal.
He added, "For example, last year, Mohun Bagan were in a similar position because they finished fifth two years ago and we changed the team completely. We created a strong team and a family in the dressing room. That is why we got good results."
He is coming into the Kochi-based side having watched all of their ISL matches and a few reserve team games. Expected yet good move, considering he has time on his hands to shape the squad the way he needs it.
"I watched all the games of Kerala Blasters last season. I also watched a few games by the reserve team. Of course, it is not the same to watch it via video compared to working with the team. I have an approach (I want to take) with the players, I have a good idea about which aspects we have to improve. They did very good things also last season - they tried to create a good style for the club," he remarked.
It is not a common occurrence that a title-winning manager has had to join a new club months after the success. But the merger deal between Indian Super League (ISL) champions and Mohun Bagan has left the head coach without much in the way of choice.
"ATK won the ISL, Bagan won the I-League. It was an exceptional situation - the merger. Only one (head coach) could stay. This is football, this is natural. No complaints at all. ATK-Mohun Bagan is going to be the favourite now. They are the champions, they would want to improve their team and it is going to be a very tough team to compete against."
Having achieved success in his first-ever season in Indian football, Vicuna is highly motivated to continue doing well. The first task for the coach is to ensure that the club brings on board the players that he feels will do well in his system. As reported earlier by Goal, the club has his transfer wishlist and is working behind the scenes to assemble a solid unit.
"What I learnt about Indian football is that we can create a team which can play good football. The players are hard workers, they want to improve. The competition is very even so we have to work hard. We have to create a good team with a good group of players and hopefully, everybody is going to be proud of the way we are going to play football," the former Osasuna youth coach said.
One of the biggest issues Blasters encountered last season was during the pre-season when they were forced to cut short their trip to the UAE due to mismanagement by the organisers. At the same time, Bagan took part in multiple Cup tournaments (Durand and Sheikh Kamal), the Calcutta Football League (CFL) and played friendlies and pulled off a successful pre-season campaign before the season kickstarted. Vicuna would need a strong pre-season but as it stands, the Coronavirus pandemic stands in the way of planning for the club.
"The Coronavirus pandemic is going to affect society. A lot of people are dying. It is not just going to affect football. In football terms, for sure, it will affect the budget of the teams. We are going to face an economic crisis.
"Perhaps, it is going to affect the schedule of the pre-season and the competitions. We will see what is going to happen. Hopefully, with the force of everybody, we are going to beat the Coronavirus."