Ivan Vukomanovic is a “geography freak” by his admission. He loves to jump in his car and head to less explored places. His passion for travel and fascination with history has taken him across all of Europe and the Serbian has now embarked on a trip to India to take charge of Kerala Blasters.
He is the club’s 11th coach in eight seasons. He is aware of the kind of merry-go-round system at the club where coaches are replaced periodically, but insists he had a “good feeling” about joining the Kochi-based club.
“It’s like when you meet someone in your life, your friend or a girlfriend, and you get that feeling… like a good feeling. I didn’t get that with some interviews but I had the best feeling with Kerala Blasters. The very first time we met and chatted I had a very positive feeling. They presented a good project and they are good people. Some of the other offers I got had more money, but I’m not a coach drawn to it – I’m drawn to great projects and I believe in good people. I think Kerala Blasters have a great environment with a huge fan base – which attracted me to the club, ”said the 44-year-old.
READ: ATK Mohun Bagan names Juan Ferrando head coach
“I noticed that the club had one of the youngest teams in the league and I wanted to be a part of the development of the team. I want to develop the boys, not only to perform well on the pitch, but also to help them grow in their character and their mentality, ”he adds.
His first observations are that the nation, dubbed the “sleeping giant of Asian football”, needs to pay more attention to youth development.
“Since we arrived in India, I must admit that I am positively surprised by what we have seen. We are surprised by the quality and the potential of the talents. I think if we speak honestly I try to be realistic, you need infrastructure to develop yourself and take it to the next level but the lack of youth development leaves a huge void. Compared to other nations, this creates a huge gap for players who arrive later at senior level, or here at ISL level.
It’s like sending a first year medical student to the operating room and telling him that a patient is dying and needs a heart transplant. It is quite impossible in such a situation. A lack of youth development creates a huge gap for players arriving at the senior level and may have difficulty with certain aspects. “
Former SC East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler drew criticism last year when he said a few of the Indian players on his squad appear to have never been coached before. Vukomanovic feels he is simply comparing the status of Indian football to that of the world standard.
READ: FC Goa DoF: Disappointed to be kept in the dark about Ferrando’s desire to leave the club
“I don’t want anyone to misunderstand this, but we outsiders compare ourselves to the situations we have faced in our past. I have lived in Belgium for 16 years, which is today the world number one and is developing its young players. Players move up to higher levels and get better after making transfers to top clubs. Everyone makes a profit, the clubs make money from the transfer and the national team also benefits because they come back better after playing in higher leagues.
“As Robbie said, the need is to focus on developing young players aged 14-19, which is most crucial for a footballer. If they don’t get a decent job at that age , then they will never be ready for the next level. They will have a hard time when they get to the senior level and play in the ISL or the national team. If you give them a long break of 5-6 months and you then call them into the national team without giving them proper education in the past, they will never be ready to play. The national team will always suffer and will never be able to do big results, “he said .
“ISL and Federation organizers should connect these dots to complete the chain and help prepare young players at the highest level. I’m sure India will have a very good national team very soon which can reach the top level like the World Cup. India has enormous potential and talent and can easily do it. They have shown it in other sports. I am positively surprised by what we have seen and I am optimistic… this is the way to go. Otherwise, we will have a generation of players that will be wasted. You will have a talent and maybe every 10-15 years you will have one (Sunil) Chhetri. But on a huge level, you want to achieve something. I am sure of it and it is a process that must be followed, ”he adds.
A defender when he was playing, his coaching philosophy is simple: scoring goals. “I want to play attack attack attack. I think it’s a great way to play soccer. We are still talking and saying you have to play for the result. Every coach has a favorite style, approach or training, but every tactic is good. As a coach you have to recognize the potential of the team. If I see that some boys have potential (to excel on offense) then our job is to develop them to a higher level – to provide them with higher scoring opportunities and attacking options. I want to give them the opportunity to play attacking football because they will improve and enjoy their football, ”he said. He conceded that playing offensively increases the risk of getting hit at the counter, but adds: “It’s football.”
A story of Vidic and Pochettino
Recalling his playing days, Vukomanovic reveals his special connection to Serbian and Manchester United legend Nemanja Vidic. “You should know that I was playing with former Manchester United captain Vidic. We are from the same city, we have known each other since our childhood. We played together in defense at Red Star Belgrade. He’s four years younger and was the next generation of kids to come to our first squad. He made his debut in the UCL qualifying round and we played together in defense – it was his first game. Our coach told me that he would stay with us another six months to improve and watch, he has become one of the best defenders in Europe, ”he remembers fondly.
“When he was in Manchester I was very supportive of them, especially under Sir Alex Ferguson. We make it a point to catch up whenever we are in town. He knows I’m here in India now,” he adds. .
New season: Kerala Blasters FC players celebrate a goal in ISL match against ATK Mohun Bagan. – PTI
Vukomanovic then sealed a move from Red Star Belgrade to Bordeaux in France, where he would be a roommate with current Paris Saint-Germain manager Mauricio Pochettino. “I played a season in France and my roommate was Pochettino. I was in Bordeaux, he came from PSG. We shared the room for a season, then he went to Espanyol and then became a coach. It has been 20 years now and we are still in touch. We exchange messages all the time and keep in touch. I had met him in Belgrade when he came with Tottenham Hotspur to face Red Star Belgrade in the Champions League, ”he said.
At the time of this interview, Pochettino was heavily linked with the vacant management post at Manchester United. Before being asked anything about it, Vukomanovic jokes: “I can’t say what he said about working at Manchester (wink). Knowing him, anything is possible!
READ: Igor Angulo: “I’m having the best time of my career”
Vukomanovic has also crossed paths with tennis ace Novak Djokovic and often dines at the latter’s restaurant in Belgium. But for now, he longs to travel to Kochi and watch his team play in front of their loud crowd.
“We have a lot of fun here, there is a lot of laughter in the camp. I have to admit, life in the bubble is something I hadn’t experienced earlier. It’s like luxury imprisonment – we’ll practice, play and come back. But it’s fun, we’ve had table tennis, darts, chess and PlayStation tournaments. It’s fun and morale is always high in the camp. Hopefully this (pandemic) is over soon and we can be back in Kochi to perform in front of our fans, ”he said.