As the Indian Super League (ISL) veers towards its business end, Kerala Blasters will host Chennaiyin FC in an important clash at Kochi on Friday.
Having replaces Rene Meulensteen with David James mid-way through the season after languishing in the bottom half, the Blasters now find themselves in a fight for the playoff spots with two games remaining.
Describing his experience of taking over in the middle of the season, James said, “When I came to the club, I think there were question marks. There were only a few players who knew from my first time here. The experience I have as a head coach would have been a question as well.”
“From the day one, Kerala Blasters wasn't just about the players. It was about everybody involved,” he added.
The Englishman stated that draw against ATK in their last match had thrown a spanner in the works in their goal to qualify for the playoffs.
“We have got a talented squad to allow Kerala to be in a position to be in the race for the playoffs. The objective is pretty much the same after two defeats. We needed to win six games. The draw against ATK was a tough one. It wasn't in the plan. It is a massive game in local rivalry terms. The objective doesn't change, we have to win the game of football,” he stressed.
James also explained how having the best home support in the league can be a double-edged sword for his team.
“The support that we get home and away is very valuable. I don't think it is pressure. One of the inherent problems with having the best fans in the country is that other teams enjoy playing here as well. It is not always a 100 per cent in our favour as well. Tomorrow is the last home game in the league stage. It is an opportunity to utilise the home support,” he explained.
The former Liverpool and Manchester City player also praised Dimitar Berbatov’s contribution to the club and said that it was possible that the ex-Manchester United man could line up as a striker for Friday’s clash.
“Berbatov has been fantastic at this football club. As far as playing role, we have had players out of position. Different oppositions dictate the roles that certain players need to play. Fitness wise, the different opposition needs different skills. Maybe, he will play upfront tomorrow,” he said about the star-man.
James spoke about the importance of a clean-sheet but added that it alone won’t be enough for his side on Friday.
“Kerala and clean sheets feel like a bit of oxymoron this season. Defensively, clean sheets always give you confidence. However, a nil-nil draw tomorrow won't be good enough. If you can score goals and keep clean sheets, the coach is very happy,” he stated.
When asked about the inaugural Super Cup, James replied, “I think the Super Cup is great. Bengaluru FC came from I-League and they are top now. But they have made changes as well. It is an opportunity.”
The Kerala man did add about how the new concept could be a chance to test the mettle of the two leagues.
“I am not 100 per cent sure about how this thing is going to work but I have not focused on it. I think having a recognized cup is good. I think having the league and cup separate sounds like an interesting format. It will be a chance for Indian football to know where the power lies,” he explained.
On whether he would extend his stay with Kerala, the Englishman said, “Providing the conversations go well, I love being in India.”
Before signing off, James also stated that his UEFA Champions League punditry commitments with Sony Six did not hinder him from performing his duties at the club.
“Certainly commitments I already had anyway. The support network the club has, the coaching staff, allows me to do that. I am constantly in communication with people make sure things are okay,” he remarked.