ISL 2019-20: After season plagued by injuries and mismanagement, Eelco Schattorie deserves second chance at Kerala Blasters

Schattorie took NorthEast United FC to the semi-finals for the first time in the club's history in the 2018/19 season, an achievement that earned him the position at Kerala Blasters

Akarsh Sharma February 25, 2020 19:51:09 IST
ISL 2019-20: After season plagued by injuries and mismanagement, Eelco Schattorie deserves second chance at Kerala Blasters
  • Kerala has seen eight head coaches over six seasons, and none of them has set the world alight

  • Schattorie has had a season wrecked with injuries to key players, which has crippled any chance of him executing his plans

  • Schattorie took NorthEast United FC to the semi-finals for the first time in the club's history in the 2018/19 season, an achievement that earned him the position at Kerala Blasters

Kerala Blasters FC should stick with head coach Eelco Schattorie. The club's decision-makers might be tempted to replace him after an unproductive season, but they must avoid hitting the reset button again.

Kerala has seen eight head coaches (nine, if you count interim head coach Trevor Morgan) over six seasons, and none of them has set the world alight. This club needs stability and continuity. It needs to stick with its plan, which was to rebuild with Schattorie over a longer period of time.

Schattorie remains a good choice. Or rather, there isn’t enough evidence yet to suggest that he was a bad choice in the first place. He has had a season wrecked with injuries to key players, which has crippled any chance of him executing his plans. “We are the only team that had six of the seven foreigners injured on and off,” Schattorie had correctly pointed out mid-season.

Club captain Sandesh Jhingan was ruled out of the season even before a ball was kicked. Spanish midfielder Mario Arques missed 12 out of 18 games. Dutch defender Gianni Zuiverloon missed nine. Arques was the “controller” around whom Schattorie wanted to anchor his team, while Zuiverloon was crucial in his philosophy to start the team’s moves by passing from defence.

ISL 201920 After season plagued by injuries and mismanagement Eelco Schattorie deserves second chance at Kerala Blasters

Eelco Schattorie on the sidelines of Kerala Blasters' Indian Super League match against Bengaluru FC. Image courtesy: ISL

Brazilian defender Jairo Rodrigues picked up a hamstring injury five games into the season and had to be discarded from the squad. He had played the first four games after taking injections. Senegalese midfielder Moustapha Gning also missed four straight games in the first half of the season, while Spaniard Sergio Cidoncha, or ‘Cido’, was out for five matches and was played out of position to fill in for Arques.

Add to this, the names of TP Rehenesh and Seityasen Singh, both injured in preseason, young gun Rahul KP, missing nine games when he looked to have solved the team’s problems on the wing, and Arjun Jayaraj, who signed from I-League club Gokulam Kerala FC with great expectations but couldn’t make the squad.

This club saw more movement inside its medical room than inside the opposition’s penalty area this season. This would disrupt plans of the best of coaches. For this reason alone, the final judgment on Schattorie should be deferred. He deserves a shot in the intermediate, if not longer, future.

What hasn’t helped Schattorie’s case is his outspoken nature. The coach’s vanity does not go along with managing a team that achieved only four wins all season and the third-lowest points total in Blasters' short history. It doesn’t help him earn much sympathy either. He has often rubbed people the wrong way.

Twice this season, after defeats to Bengaluru FC and FC Goa, two of the better sides in the Indian Super League (ISL), Schattorie had claimed only “one team played football” — which was his team. It was bizarrely disrespectful, even if Kerala did outplay their opponents during some parts of the game. “My tactics were spot on”, he declared after the defeat in Bengaluru. “If anyone says we did not outplay them, they don’t understand football,” he said post the loss in Goa.

On more than one occasion, Schattorie said some of his players “have never been coached before”, showing a lack of respect to both the coaching fraternity and his own players. There is a manner of saying things publicly in football, and this wasn’t it.

When Schattorie first met Sahal Abdul Samad, the bright young Indian playmaker who was the league’s emerging player the previous year, he claims to have told the player he would “make him the best midfielder in India”.

But Sahal has not thrived under Schattorie, who has kept him grounded. The coach pointed out that Sahal cannot play “through midfield”, in his preferred number 10 role, and deployed him in wider positions and often as a late substitute.

With foreign strikers Bartholomew Ogbeche and Messi Bouli indispensable to the team, Sahal’s preferred position doesn't exist in Schattorie’s strategy. Still, the coach acknowledged that there is no other midfielder in India like Sahal — “intuitive, technical and creative”.

Schattorie has a confident and maverick personality. He is an eccentric character who gives you a good sound bite. A bit like Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho, if you’re searching for an equivalent. At times, he comes across as a genius. Prior to the fixture in Kolkata, he declared he “knows exactly what ATK’s weaknesses are and how to exploit them” before going on to beat the league leaders. He did the same with Bengaluru FC, which was the first time the Blasters beat their Southern rivals.

ISL 201920 After season plagued by injuries and mismanagement Eelco Schattorie deserves second chance at Kerala Blasters

Kerala Blaster's Eelco Schattorie addressing the media after a win against Bengaluru FC. Image courtesy: ISL

Other times, he ends up looking like a fool. A 3-6 home defeat to Chennaiyin FC, albeit with Schattorie barred from the dugout, was the club’s most humiliating result in its short history. A dreadful performance from TP Rehenesh, the goalkeeper the coach had declared as his number one, did not vindicate him either.

When the Blasters came from 0-2 down to level the match in Goa, the coach told his players to “go for the kill” — a slit-their-throats gesture that was reduced to a meme after Kerala lost 2-3. When the team was denied a penalty against Odisha FC, Schattorie walked up to the referee and offered him “one million rupees" if the referee could prove his decision was correct.

Schattorie idolises the late Johan Cruyff, and comes across as a purist. And purists want everything in the right order. Which is a tough ask in Indian football. Kerala’s preseason in the UAE was cancelled midway, and the coach hasn’t let the management forget about it. “We are two-three weeks behind,” he had said before the opening game of the season.

He used the cancelled preseason as an excuse several times during the season and blames it for the club's injury crisis. A club like Kerala Blasters, among the worst managed in the league, could probably do with a coach who can speak his mind and hold the management accountable. Schattorie, at least, seems to tick that box.

He also ticks other boxes. The style of play the coach aspires to play, of pressing and passing, needs a level of cohesion that requires time, ability and availability of players. He hasn't been fortunate in this regard. We have seen this style only in patches, and Kerala Blasters has rarely seen more eye-pleasing football in the previous five seasons.

Schattorie took NorthEast United FC to the semi-finals for the first time in the club's history in the 2018/19 season — an achievement that earned him the position at Kerala Blasters. Along the way, he had taken jibes at Delhi Dynamos FC (now Odisha FC) for performing far worse with a larger budget. He called out ISL organisers for giving his team the "second-worst schedule". He took swipes at the management for poor squad depth, claiming that he "can't rotate."

But he got the job done.

Moaning, challenging and provoking is Schattorie's default way of operating. He will say what is on his mind. He will challenge others. He will tell you the troubles he has been facing. He will divide opinion every season. But his approach to football should be welcomed and he should be given more time, at least by a club that has largely failed to keep its supporters happy.

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