Over the last two years, Kerala Blasters have been accused by their own supporters of preferential treatment towards players from the North-East region of India. Supporters believed that the club wasn't doing enough to promote local talent.
Club CEO Viren D'Silva took charge towards the end of last season and has been involved in the transfer market to set up a competitive squad for next season. The team has roped in Eelco Schattorie as head coach, followed by statement signings such as that of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Mario Arques, Sergio Cidoncha etc.
Regarding young players, the new leadership at Blasters made their intentions known very early in the market by securing the signature India's U-17 World Cupper and Keralite Rahul KP. It is safe to say that more players will be added to the roster before the season begins. But will the signings ever be good enough for the supporters, if there are not enough local players?
"I think it is an overall perspective. There has to be a steady pipeline of players being made available," Kerala Blasters CEO Viren D'Silva told Goal.
"Our goal is very very definitive in terms of numbers we want to represent from Kerala. We would rather have that ecosystem be developed ourselves but ultimately each of the clubs in ISL represents a certain region and it is our duty to grow football from the ground up. And the manifestation of that is how many players actually represent on the field."
He further added, "So we are not doing it only as a marketing gimmick or whatever. Players who have real potential and we believe can make it through, we would love to have those players. That is our focus.
"In the next five years, you can see those percentages (number of local players in the team) grow even more. That is why there is a huge investment into the grassroots programme, academy and youth development. It comes into play with good coaching. Kerala is now getting more and more pitches and grounds. So I think it is an ecosystem of coaches, pitches, training and opportunity."
Another challenge for the club is to get the fans to attend the home games. Blasters have always been known for their large support but the attendance figures in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi has dwindled due to a combination of style of football and results. The Blasters management will not be shying away from that responsibility.
"At no point in time, we recluse ourselves as the management of what happens on the field. Having said that, everything is a process. Ultimately you can do your part, right from recruitment to preparation to planning, every little detail in a successful team on and off the field has to come together. Sometimes that is out of sync for whatever reason and does not work. Fans can't see what is there beneath the tip of the iceberg in terms of effort so they feel sad and unheard. But trust me it's not true.
"We want nothing more than to win, for the football to bring joy, for the Blasters to part of every household conversation and memory. If we did something wrong that hurt anyone, we are sorry. That was never where we want this journey to end. The future is full of promise and hope."
Kerala Blasters faithful will continue to make themselves heard, not only inside the stadium but also on social media. The criticism through digital platforms has crossed limits at times but the new person-in-charge feels it is part of the game.
"I try to hear everyone and I listen to everybody. I have to be true to the job that is given to me. If as a team we have delivered, then I feel content. I don't feel that as a criticism, it might be a disappointment or an emotional reaction. But that's football that's what you live for. I have seen both the highs and lows. I will continue to love football, Kerala and Blasters. How people or fans react is their goodwill."