BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
If you are a Kerala Blasters supporter, you were excited when the club announced the signing of former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen as the head coach. If you weren't, then you belong to a minority.
Sure, his stints as head coach have not been mightily successful compared to his time at Manchester United as a trusted second-in-command to Sir Alex Ferguson. But Kerala Blasters were going through an overhaul from top to bottom and with the kind of experience the Dutchman possesses in coaching players, the choice seemed to be a no-brainer.
The start to his life at Kerala Blasters hasn't gone too well though in terms of results. The Kerala-based side are off to a winless start, having played out goalless draws against ATK and Jamshedpur before conceding late to share spoils with Mumbai City in a 1-1 draw, all at their home turf. While three points from three home games can be something to worry about for a head coach, Rene is unperturbed and satisfied with Kerala's kick-off to this season's Indian Super League.
"You always need to take positives from every performance. Have to bear in mind that we are, like everyone, a new group of players together trying to gel to get the best out of them."
"Most of the time you want to look for a win in the home games. I think it is clear that the other teams and we, are still trying to find our feet. I was very pleased with the second game because the first game was a lot of anxiety," remarked a confident looking Meulensteen.
"I kept saying it and throughout the season clean sheets are going to be more important. You see that teams are conceding two, three, four goals. When that is starting to happen, it is difficult to amend that. We are in the early part of the season."
David James was Kerala's first head coach in their inaugural season in ISL. Peter Taylor replaced the former England International as the head coach in 2015 but his appointment was short-lived following a poor run of results. Terry Phelan failed to turn Kerala's fortunes around and it was former Crystal Palace gaffer Steve Coppell, presently in charge of Jamshedpur FC, who helped Blasters to reach the final for the second time in three seasons.
It wasn't pretty to watch but Coppell's defensive-minded approach yielded results. In Rene Meulensteen, Kerala Blasters have a coach with a completely different football philosophy, one that will take time to truly click on the field.
"Every coach has got his own DNA. I come from a country, Holland, where you always play an attractive style of football based on possession. Other coaches are far more direct and simple. Nothing is better and nothing is worse. It is what you like. I like to play a certain brand of football where the ball is kept with purpose, with a little bit of unpredictability. Now, these are things that players need to learn. It's a journey to show the players the options - how they can open up defences. And that is an ongoing learning curve."
"Then you have different players at your disposal - some are very quick, some are a little bit better on the ball, some are better at turning, some are better at receiving the ball. So that is a jigsaw you put into place. As long as every time you can show the players we are moving on, every time we are moving on [in the right direction]...that is my belief."
Kerala Blasters boast a huge fan-base that is extremely demanding. There is a good reason why none of the club's pre-season results was shared on social media. The club is very calculated in their approach to their fans, understandably not wanting them to be overly expectant right at the beginning of the season. The coach, unlike the fans, can always see a different angle to the results and that is the case with the Dutchman as well.
"I'm actually quite satisfied [with the team's progress]. Why I am satisfied is because, and that is what a lot of the fans and other people don't know, they just see the games. They don't know what is happening behind the scenes, the work that goes in and the process that is taking place. And that is good. That can only be good if the players are willingly putting in the effort, discipline and commitment. I am very impressed with the players' attitude so far," praised Meulensteen.
The 53-year-old is confident of things clicking into place despite the winless start. A turning point is around the corner and it is a matter of when rather than if.
"We can talk about attacking but at the end of the day, the players are the ones who are stepping onto the field and there are variables that can have an influence. But when it [philosophy] starts to fall into place, when you can start feeding back to the players saying 'this is you!', and then the confidence will come in."
Meulensteen's chapter at Kerala Blasters has only begun. Of course, we are dealing with a sport based on results. But when you are part of a long-term project, you need to be ready to play the waiting game for the greater good.