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Why Kerala Blasters FC sacked Ivan Vukomanovic ?

Kerala Blasters FC part ways with Ivan Vukomanovic here's why ISL 2023-2024
Courtesy: Indian Super League

The Kochi based Indian Super League (ISL) club Kerala Blasters FC took the tough decision last night when the club officially announced the departure of probably the most successful head coach in the history of the club, Ivan Vukomanovic ahead of the new ISL 2024-2025 season.

Kerala Blasters FC finished 5th in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2023-2024 league phase but were knocked-out by Odisha FC in extra-time of the playoff match played at the Kalinga Stadium.

The Serbian head coach joined Kerala Blasters FC in the year 2021 and was part of the club 3 seasons in a row, taking the team into the playoffs in each occasions, including the final in the 2021-2022 season, only to lose to Hyderabad FC in penalty shootout. 

The question must be, despite being the most successful head coach for the club, why Kerala Blasters FC decided to part ways with Ivan Vukomanovic?

Back-to-back failure to reach ISL Final

Since reaching the final of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-2022 season, Kerala Blasters have qualified for the playoffs in 2022-2023 season, 2023-2024 season, but have failed to make it back to the final again.

Blasters finished 5th in 2022-2023 season and lost to Bengaluru FC in the playoffs. This season too the club finished 5th and lost to Odisha FC in the playoffs, not even making it to the semi-finals in both occasions.

The infamous walkout

In the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-2023 season, Kerala Blasters FC finished 5th in the league phase and qualified for the playoffs. The faced off against Southern rivals Bengaluru FC in the playoffs match in a bid to make it to the semi-finals. However, in an action-packed match, Kerala Blasters FC lost to Bengaluru FC in the extra-time. 

The regular 90 minutes and added-time ended in a draw, extending the match to a further 30 minutes of extra-time. In the 97th minute, Bengaluru received a free-kick in Blasters' final third and Bengaluru skipper Sunil Chhetri capitalised on that with a quick free-kick to the back of the net, however, no Kerala Blasters FC players were ready for that. That free-kick goal led to much drama, including Ivan Vukomanovic deciding to walkout of the match with his team with well-over 20 minutes of match still left to play. However, the team never back on the pitch and Bengaluru FC beat the Kerala Blasters to qualify for the semi-finals. Later, Kerala Blasters FC received a huge fine and Ivan Vukomanovic was suspended.

Out-of-form and slip-down in league table

Just when the Indian Super League went on a break in December for the Indian football team's campaign in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 in Qatar, Kerala Blasters FC were placed 2nd in the league table with 26 points from 12 matches, 1 point behind top of the table FC Goa, although Goa had a game in hand. But, in the 2nd half of the season, the club suffered major slump in form. Out of the 10 matches they played in the 2nd half, the club lost 7 matches, 1 match was a draw and 2 wins against FC Goa and a youthful Hyderabad FC. That in the end meant that Kerala Blasters FC qualified for the ISL playoffs as the 5th best team with 33 points, managing to add only 7 points from their points total halfway into the season.

Injury crisis major suffering

In the entire duration of the season, injuries have been a massive suffering for the club. Several players at several times were unavailable for the club, including their best player and captain Adrian Luna missing out a massive chunk of the season. Star defender Marko Leskovic missed the early phase of the season due to injury with other defender Milos Drincic suffering due to red card suspensions. Summer signing Aibanbha Dohling missed almost the entire season after joining the club from FC Goa for a reported transfer fee of 1.4 Crore INR.

Midfielders Jeakson Singh, Freddy Lallawmawma and Vibin Mohanan also missed matches due to injury with the former two missing major chunk of the season. Star midfielder and the club captain, who is also the heartbeat of the club, missed the 2nd half of the season, which was a major miss for the club. Kwame Peprah also missed matches in the 2nd half of the season while summer signing Jaushua Sotirio missed the entire season after suffering an injury in the summer itself. All-in-one, Kerala Blasters were nothing less than a hospital this season and missing several key players at different times of the season really cost Ivan Vukomanovic to have a settled line-up of players.

Disaster Cup Run

While the Blasters didn't even came close to winning the ISL League Shield or the ISL Cup, the club also couldn't deliver in the Cup tournament this season. Starting with the Durand Cup, involved in Group B with I-League side Gokulam Kerala, Bengaluru FC reserve team and Indian Air Force, Kerala Blasters could only finish third behind Gokulam and Bengaluru. They lost Gokulam in the Kerala Derby 4-3 and could just draw 2-2 against Bengaluru FC reserve team. They ended the campaign with 5-0 win Indian Air Force, bottling the third to win a Cup in the season.

The repeated the same mistake again in January in the Kalinga Super Cup. Grouped with Jamshedpur FC, NorthEast United FC and I-League's Shillong Lajong FC, once again the Blasters finished 3rd behind their two ISL compatriots Jamshedpur FC and NorthEast United FC respectively. The club lost both its matches against Jamshedpur and NorthEast United but Shillong Lajong in the opening match of their campaign, finishing only 3rd again and missing out on another Cup run.

All-in-one, Kerala Blasters FC once again ended its Indian football season Trophy-less, failing to win any of the competition they competed in, be it the Durand Cup, Super Cup, Indian Super League league stage or the ISL Playoffs. In the end, Kerala Blasters on April 26 officially announced the decision to mutually part-ways with their most successful head coach.

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