ISL 2017-18: Rene Meulensteen lambasts Kerala Blasters management after unfair sacking

The former Kerala Blasters coach opened up about what went on behind the scenes at the club during his two-month tenure...

GOAL BY NISANTH V EASWAR    Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter

Kerala Blasters lost to rivals Bengaluru FC on New Year's Eve and that proved to be the end of former Manchester United assistant coach Rene Meulensteen's stint as head coach of the Yellow Army. 

The club released a statement which said that both parties had 'mutually parted ways' and there were even rumours circling that the Dutch coach had submitted his resignation to the management but speaking to Goal, the former Kerala Blasters coach opened up about what actually transpired.


Q: Looking back, what do you think went wrong at Kerala Blasters?

In hindsight, I think you find out a little bit more than at that moment. It is a cocktail of a few things, in my opinion.

The reason why the club has made the decision is probably fueled by a few people within the organisation. If you then look at the standings - seven games played, four draws, two losses and one win, it is easy to change the owner's opinion.

And rather than looking at the process that was taking place -  is the training good? Is the training well organized? Are the players training well, etc, they have made the decision on the emotion of the disappointment of where we (Kerala Blasters) were in the league at that time. But I was never really too much worried because I knew that eventually, when things were starting to fall into place, we would go from strength to strength. 

You assemble a team through the draft. You pick the Indian players that you think can help the Blasters. But you are a little bit hand-tied because you can only pick what is in front of you. You retain the players that Blasters thought were good.


Then you bring in the foreign players, which we discussed with the ownership - let's go for four senior experienced players of whom one is a goalkeeper. And four younger ones and one of them was Keziron Kizito. And that was totally mismanaged by the management. We wanted Keziron as that holding midfielder but he could only be registered in January. Since I have left now everybody could see how good a player Keziron is. 

And that was something we were lacking in our first games. So I had to try different things to see how we could make it work. But everything that we did try was not really working as such and in the experiment with (Dimitar) Berbatov playing a little bit deeper against Goa, he had to come off after three minutes.

I think the fact that we did not sign Keziron was big. The management failed to comply with the financial agreement with him and his agent and therefore since he didn't get paid, he didn't fly over. 

Only when we discussed this with Mr. Prasad (the owner), (I realised) he was unaware. (Then) It happened in and around Christmas time and so he could play in January. Everybody can see that the young players in (Mark) Sifneos, Courage (Pekuson) and Keziron are all talented and very good players. 

I have not been able to play my strongest outfit (even) once if you look at all the games. Wes Brown wasn't fit in the beginning, later on, Rino Anto got injured, CK Vineeth got injured, Berbatov got injured, Keziron wasn't there. And that is a problem for every manager. You always want to play your best players. 

I read up articles and obviously, people have different opinions and they form them basically without knowing what is actually going on. If you look at it game-by-game, in the home game against Mumbai, we should have been 2-0 up. If Jackichand (Singh) squares the ball, then CK Vineeth can tap it in. 

That has nothing to do with coaching. That has to do with the lack of quality in the most important moments in the final third. If Jackichand scores in the chance against Chennaiyin, we go 1-0 up. We luckily drew at the end. You can look at plenty of other games where we created chances, even in the away game against Goa where we conceded three goals in seven minutes, we could’ve scored four or five ourselves.

Q: Who is to blame for what happened?

I am taking all the blame here. Everybody thinks that I am the problem and if they get rid of me, that is the problem solved. Now, most likely, with the right manager in place, they will walk into the play-offs and they will win it! Because the problem is gone! That is exactly what I read all the time, they write about Anzhi Makhachkala, Fulham and (Maccabi) Haifa and that I got sacked and sacked and sacked.

But nobody looks into detail about what actually happened in those clubs. At Anzhi, the owner took all the money away from the club. All the international professionals had to go. Nothing to do with my coaching or management.

At Fulham, it was a ridiculous decision because I was only in charge for about 12-to-13 games. There were plenty of winnable games to come and in the games that I managed, we played against nine teams who were placed in the top ten.  

Then at Haifa, we were doing well at the start of the season, 13 games unbeaten. Then, we had a poor spell. The owner decided to get rid of a lot of players. We lose the derby and they make an emotional decision. 

You look at all those clubs now, look at them since I have left. Look where they are. None of them has improved or done better. Why is that? 

It is easy to highlight me as the problem but I know that the only thing me and my staff wanted was to create a more professional environment in the club. To build a team in two months is not easy. 

Q: How was the support you received from the management?

Every coach and every International player who has played in the ISL who I spoke to, they all advised me to bring someone with me who could help organize things better. Every coach and every foreign player was complaining about the logistics and the organization of things. 


There are plenty of examples where the management and especially the CEO (Varun Tripuraneni) have been very very incompetent in this whole thing. And probably, one reason why they wanted to see us leave is that we were too demanding in every field as we wanted to make the club a more professional club. But rather than learning, they think, 'we have got to get rid of them' because that's easier for them. 

Q: So it was not a case of you 'stepping down', 'submitting resignation', or 'mutually parting ways'?

It was made very clear to me by the CEO that the club wanted to make a change. So we had a conversation about that. They wanted to make the change, I did not. Then it is up to them what they want to put in the club statement. At the end of the day, I am going to be the one who takes the damage. 

Q: Do you feel that the fans have been let down by the club this season?

Kerala Blasters have the biggest support in India in ISL. We have looked at how to market and monetize that through social media, me and my staff. The club had no plans, none whatsoever. 

Every club had to build a new team, apart from maybe Bengaluru because they came from the I-League and had a lot of players together. Rebuilding a team takes time, for a start. There was absolutely no reason why Kerala cannot be in the play-offs. But they can also be out of the play-offs. That is why the ISL is a yo-yo league. 

If you look at all the goals being conceded, 90 per cent of them are going in due to a mistake and not because it is fantastic football. If you look at the goals that we (Kerala Blasters) scored in the beginning, they were all from patterns of play, ones that we practised on the training ground. 

Q: Iain Hume is scoring goals now but he did not start many games under you...

Hume was partly injured during the pre-season. So you have to be careful, you have to build up the fitness. He started in the first few games at home where I had to take him off after 60 minutes because he didn't have any stamina anymore. Then he gets injured again. So I couldn't play him. I knew that Iain is still an important player and a good player when he is fit.

Then he comes back, and like every goalscorer when you score your first goal, you get confidence. That is what he did against Delhi (Dynamos). Good for him and for Kerala.

Q: What is your message to the fans who supported you?

There were a lot of insensible stuff being written on social media because it was all fuelled by emotion. 

One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Kerala Blasters was the fans. They are absolutely amazing. In every game, home and away, they have been absolutely fantastic. 

In missing Keziron Kizito, it was a massive piece of the jigsaw. Not all the Indian players were equipped to playing in front of a full house mentally. You could see that there was anxiousness about certain players. You could see that in the decision making. And that is a learning curve they have to go through. And that's why I was not too worried. 

To learn and grow, you can only do that by accepting what is wrong, learn from it and move on. So my message to the fans is that the things that have happened are not necessarily the way it seemed. I hope that the fans understand that I have put my heart and soul into this project and I get thrown out after not really given any time, without an opportunity to play with the best players and team. The fans make Kerala Blasters. Not the management, for sure. And the players have to learn to live up to that.

A lot of the Indian players who can come in if C.K.Vineeth or someone else is injured are not of the same standard because most of them are very young still. The problem is a lot of people only look at the results and the emotion that goes with it. If people are winning, everybody has a smiling face.

If we had the chance to gradually grow into the best team that we are, I am 100 per cent sure that we would have made the play-offs.

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It is unfortunate that Berbatov hasn't been able to play. We managed his injury really well, you can't stop such calf injuries. All of the foreign players came to Kerala Blasters because of me, every single player wanted to come and play for me. It has changed. If you ask any of those players, I think none of them was happy about the decision to let me go. Especially Wes Brown and Berbatov, they know me and knew that I was trying to do the right things. They also knew the difficulties I was up against. 

People only hear and know one side of things. They don't know what is actually happening. I am not bitter and this is not out of revenge. I feel I have to protect myself and just want to make sure that people see a fair picture. They should understand the difficulties that I had to deal with - the poor management. Any coach would be furious about this. And if you don't have the backing of the club to do something about it, what can you do?