From “Ivan, Who”? To Ivanism

Kerala Blasters Football Club announced on Friday their decision to part ways with head coach Ivan Vukomanovic, ending a three-year tenure that saw both highs and lows for the club.

Vukomanovic, a former defender who played for clubs like Red Star Belgrade and FC Köln during his illustrious playing career, transitioned into coaching in 2015. Prior to joining Blasters in 2021, he had managed teams in Slovakia and Cyprus.

A Fan Favorite and Players’ Man

The Serbian coach quickly endeared himself to the passionate Kerala Blasters fanbase with his attacking style of play and his visible passion on the sidelines. He fostered a strong relationship with his players, creating a united and determined squad. Vukomanovic cultivated a unique and endearing relationship with the Kerala Blasters fanbase. His pre and post-match press conferences were peppered with genuine warmth and appreciation for the passionate support. He wasn’t afraid to show his human side, even making surprise visits to fans’ homes to celebrate birthdays and special occasions. This wasn’t a mere PR stunt; Vukomanovic genuinely connected with the fans’ fervor. His iconic fist-pumping celebration routine after wins became a shared moment of pure joy between coach and fans, solidifying a bond that transcended the typical player-manager dynamic. There was even an incident where the fans sang the song “Kadumkappi” for him after the match on his return after a ban, highlighting their unconditional love towards him.

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All these years one main thing Ivan did was make this huge fanbase believe in their team which was not there pre 2021. He made this team challengers for the shield, at least till January consecutively for 3 years.

X/@FootballWalla

Elevating the Blasters

Vukomanovic’s impact was undeniable. The Blasters, who had struggled for consistency in previous seasons, reached the 2021-22 ISL final under his guidance, only to fall short in a penalty shootout. He built upon that success, guiding the team to playoffs again in the following season, though they couldn’t replicate their run to the finals. It’s important to note that these playoff appearances were a significant improvement over the two seasons preceding Vukomanovic’s arrival, where the Blasters failed to qualify for the playoffs altogether.

In 10 seasons (till #ISL10), #KBFC accumulated at least half of the points up for grabs just 4 times. 3 of them came under Ivan. He may not have won a title, but he definitely raised the baseline this club was functioning on.

X/@totalf0otball

Vukomanovic’s Legacy

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Vukomanovic leaves Kerala Blasters as the club’s most successful coach in terms of several metrics. He holds the record for most games managed (68), most wins (29) and the only coach to guide Kerala Blasters to three consecutive play-offs in ISL.

Beyond these headline-grabbing stats, Vukomanovic’s influence extended to nurturing young talent. Several players flourished under Vukomanovic’s tutelage. Sahal Abdul Samad, a fan favorite known for his dribbling skills and creativity, thrived under the coach’s attacking philosophy. Mohammed Aimen, a young winger known for his pace and trickery, blossomed under Vukomanovic’s attacking philosophy. Midfielder Mohammed Azhar displayed his potential under the coach’s guidance, emerging as a reliable option in central midfield. Also in the midfield, Kerala Blasters benefitted with the serives of Vibin Mohan who made his debut under Ivan.

Ivan Vukomanovic’s playing style as a coach can be best described as a blend of attacking flair and defensive solidity. While a former defender himself, Vukomanovic favored a 4-4-2 formation with a twist. He deployed wide playmakers who supplied crosses for two high-pressing forwards. This emphasis on attacking from the flanks and keeping the opposition on their toes resonated with the Kerala Blasters fans. However, his philosophy wasn’t all-out offense. The 4-4-2 formation with double pivots in central midfield ensured defensive stability, allowing the Blasters to be a threat at both ends of the pitch.

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If it was not for injuries, Ivan could have avoided the mid-season slumps of last two season. Qualifying for three play-offs using a squad which lacked depth is a testament for his tactical awareness and ability to inspire his players.

Parting Ways Not Without Controversy

Vukomanovic’s tenure wasn’t without its controversies. The most notable incident was a dramatic walkout during a playoff match against Bengaluru FC last season in protest of a contentious refereeing decision. This act drew criticism and highlighted the emotional intensity that sometimes overshadowed his otherwise successful tenure.

The Kerala Blasters faithful will undoubtedly have mixed emotions about Vukomanovic’s departure. He brought stability, passion, and a winning mentality to the club, while also leaving behind a legacy of attacking football. The search for his successor will be one of the key storylines for the Blasters as they look to build upon the foundations laid by the popular Serbian coach.