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Kerala Blasters and David James - a 'three-year' project that went nowhere

03:25 SAST 2018/12/19
David James
Kerala Blasters had no choice but to sack David James - a winless run of 11 matches will get any coach sacked...

David James was sacked by Kerala Blasters, nine months after the English coach signed a three-year contract at the club. His target was to build a squad capable of qualifying for the AFC Cup but instead, the club find themselves at the eighth spot on the league table, with just one win from 12 matches. 

The former Liverpool goalkeeper was loved by the Blasters faithful for his player-cum-manager role in the 2014 season of Indian Super League (ISL) which saw them finish as finalists, losing to ATK one step before ultimate glory. 

He returned for a second stint with Blasters after Rene Meulensteen was sacked last season after a poor run of results. He almost steadied the ship with a few wins away from home but even he would not have seen the three-year contract coming his way as a reward for his efforts. 

The Blasters stint was James' first ever attempt at coaching a football club and to hand a new contract which signalled a long-term project and vision to a relatively inexperienced coach like James was a risky move to make, especially in an upcoming league like the ISL. So why did that happen?

James was more than happy to be the face of the club and he was accustomed to the pros and cons for the Indian league. He had the first-hand experience of Indian football both as a player and as a manager already and the standards in ISL had only gotten better, making it easier for the former goalkeeper. 

Moreover, James was an influential figure in the dressing room and was much more amiable than his predecessor, who also had a vision for the club but couldn't succeed in implementing it. 

But the one major factor that harmed James' chances at the club beyond results was his style of play. Kerala Blasters had no identity on the field and often resorted to route one football which is rarely pleasing to the eye unless it yields goals and wins. 

James' only win came against ATK in the season opener. It was a good performance that offered a lot of promise but it was also against a Steve Coppell team that had not found their footsteps. Several match days later, ATK are seven points better than Blasters and are four points off the fourth spot. 

The displays were dire since the opening day win. There were positives to pick out - Sahal Abdul Samad's rise to the first team is one - from what turned out to be a disastrous ride, but the negatives far outweighed them and the management was forced into a decision, one that of when and not if.

While the disappointment about the results is understandable and expected, it has been reliably learnt that some of the players were distraught at the style of football being played. A 6-1 hammering at the hands of Mumbai City on Sunday left the dressing room disillusioned and it was the final nail in the coffin. 

Supporters protested the poor results and some even boycotted matches. The first team of James kept changing as a result but one thing that failed to change was the results. In the modern-day footballing scenario, a winless run of 11 matches will get the coach sacked anywhere around the world. And this left the Blasters management with no choice but to cut short the intended project of David James.

Kerala Blasters have started every ISL season with a new head coach and five out of the six coaches who have helmed the position are Englishmen. With the style of play a major factor in the ISL nowadays, maybe it is time now to look elsewhere for coaches.