Kerala Blasters officially unveiled their new head coach Rene Meulensteen in front of the media at Hotel Crowne Plaza in Kochi on Tuesday. Assistant coach Thangboi Singto and club CEO Varun Tripuraneni were also present alongside Meulensteen as the Dutch-born coach spoke to the media for the first time after taking charge at the club.
Meulensteen, who has worked with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United in the past, spoke at length about his satisfaction at the club's activity in the recently concluded draft.
"The draft is in place for a reason. To create a level playing field. In years to come, we might see it disappear but at this moment in time, it serves the purpose. We have done our homework really really well and with the assistance of Thangboi and our staff, we made sure we got it right. I think we did really well. We have 90% of the players we wanted."
"It's important that the [board] puts trust in you and that is one of the reasons why I came to Kerala. I have been following the ISL since it was formed. The strategies behind it were very clear. Many young Indians are getting into football. Now, going into the fourth season, ISL is building, expanding the league with fewer foreigners. Hopefully, the contingency of Indian players will grow."
"The key to preparing for the draft is to weigh your options and put your strategies into place. within the team, we looked at quality first and then the age of the players. We have brought in a lot of young players. We are going to make sure we have a well-balanced team."
The Dutch-born coach felt that the dedicated group of Kerala Blasters supporters deserve an exciting brand of football. "I like to bring a very exciting brand of football because a club like Kerala Blasters, with the fanbase they have got, they deserve an exciting brand of football. I want them to come to the stadium and go home and say 'I enjoyed that!'. The former Fulham manager also revealed that the large fan base of the club played its part in attracting him to the ISL.
Sir Alex Ferguson's close confidant also praised the club's first foray into the transfer market after the draft. The Yellow Army sealed a return to the club for ISL's leading goalscorer Iain Hume. Hume, who left Blasters for ATK after an impressive first season in ISL, had earlier expressed his delight at being able to rejoin such a well-supported club.
"We want to compete for titles. We have been very close. We have already signed Iain Hume, which I'm very pleased about. He loves the club, the fans and is very keen to help Blasters to achieve success."
"Iain Hume can set the tone for the team from the front because, in his DNA, he's a hard worker. I want a dynamic, hard working team. I want the fans to feel that the team has given it all."
Speaking of bringing former foreign players back to the club, the coach said,"I have been part of a club of one of the most successful managers in the history. He was able to constantly evolve, build a team and we can only do that by looking forward. If we think, a player that has played for Kerala Blasters can still do a job, we will look at him. I have got a clear idea of how I want to play."
"We are not finished yet. I don't want to rush it. By the time that league starts, you will see that we have everybody in place."
The coach also praised the club's league record and revealed that the initial picks from the draft were done with the first team in mind.
"Football sometimes runs in mysterious ways. Getting to the final is an achievement. Every final has its own story but I don't look too much into it. Kerala has proven that they can be up there, want to be up there."
"Football is always about options. The players that were selected in the early stages of the draft are players with quality looking to start. "
When asked about the goalkeeping choice Subhashish Chowdhury, the 53-year-old revealed his plans to sign a foreign custodian before the start of ISL.
"The goalkeepers picked were very quickly gone to teams. That's why we didn't really put too much emphasis on it. Wait until the 17th November and I will make sure we have a good goalkeeper there....or a goalkeeper at least."
The coach also dismissed any bias towards North East region due to Singto's influence and said that he hopes to sign the best foreign players possible.
"When we identified players, I had no idea where they were coming from. We were looking for quality. I have been working in England and it doesn't matter if they come from the South or North to play in Manchester."
"There is a difference between what you wish for and what is possible. We will do whatever possible to maximise the impact of foreign players. New heroes will come to the club and new legends will emerge. That's what we want." concluded the new Kerala Blasters coach.