KERALA BLASTERS HAVE APPOINTED former Mohun Bagan gaffer Kibu Vicuna as their head coach for the 2020-21 season.
Vicuna, who became a fan favourite with the Mariners after delivering a dominant league campaign where the Green and Maroons secured the title with four rounds to spare, was announced as the new man in charge at the Blasters a day after KBFC officially parted ways with their former head coach Eelco Schattorie.
Hailing from Spain, Kibu Vicuna faced the task of re-building the Mohun Bagan squad after a disappointing 2018-19 season. After losing the Durand Cup final and mixed results in Calcutta Football League and the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup, the club's I-League campaign began with low expectations. But after the initial hiccups including a loss to Churchill Brothers, things turned around dramatically. The Mariners did not lose another game and went on be the champions.
During this time, Vicuna stood out due to his cool-headed managerial style, beautiful football that employed fast passes and team-effort attacks, and ability to be close to both the players and the club officials. This calm professionalism played a big role in smoothly executing mid-season signings like that of striker Papa Babacar Diawara that went to play a crucial role in the Mariners' successful campaign.
Despite his outstanding performance on the job, Mohun Bagan's new investors RPSG preferred going with Antonio López Habas as their head coach next season. Immediately, multiple clubs approached Vicuna, including East Bengal and Jamshedpur FC. In the end, though, it was the Blasters who managed to secure his services.
There are indications that Joseba Beitia and Fran Gonzalez, two stalwart midfielders for Mohun Bagan, will follow Vicuna to KBFC as well.
Interestingly, after finishing 7th in ISL 2018-19, Kerala Blasters are in a position similar to where Mohun Bagan found themselves at the start of last season. Vicuna's experience in Indian football, his familiarity with some of the players in the KBFC roster including Nongdamba Naorem who played for Mohun Bagan on loan, makes him a good pick for the re-building project that KBFC are likely to undergo over the next few months.
The one thing that may be different, however, is that Vicuna may not get enough competitive experience before the league kicks off. While Mohun Bagan played more than 20 competitive matches in 3 competitions before I-League started, KBFC's participation in early season cup competitions is relatively rare; and due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic they may not have the chance to do so even if they want to.
Depending on how things turn out on the coronavirus front, the start of the ISL may have to be pushed back to November. It remains to be seen when Vicuna will travel from Spain to Kochi and how much preparatory time he is able to have with the KBFC squad.