The life of a football coach is living on the edge. You are only as good as your last match and reputations do not matter for you are expected to do the job and satisfy the management as well as the fans. The much-traveled Rene Meulensteen's stint with Kerala Blasters ended in a rather unpleasant manner as the Dutchman was forced to pack his bags after a woeful start to the fourth season of the ISL by the Kochi-based franchise.
Meulensteen, former assistant coach of Manchester United, was brought in to guide Blasters to their maiden ISL title. But it was not to be and he was shown the door after just seven games. The Yellow Brigade could notch up just one win and are languishing in eighth spot in the 10-team league with just seven points from as many games.
Blasters fans have real fears of a repeat of the second season when the management sacked Englishman Peter Taylor after the team lost five of its opening six matches. Terry Phelan, who took over from assistant coach Trevor Morgan after one match, however, could not make much of a difference as Blasters finished their campaign at the bottom of the table with just 13 points from 14 matches.
Here are a few reasons which led to Meulensteen's exit:
Unimpressive show of Berbatov
Meulensteen was instrumental in bringing in Bulgarian star striker Dimitar Berbatov to the Blasters camp. Berbatov had worked under Meulensteen at Man United and Fulham and the coach expected the ace marksman to do the job for him. But Berbatov was a pale shadow of his former self and clearly lacked match fitness. The absence of a playmaker meant that he was forced to play as an attacking midfielder. Though he showed flashes of brilliance, the goals were missing from the boots of the prolific scorer. The injury, which he picked up against FC Goa in their fourth match, meant Meulensteen's gamble did not pay off.
Decision to leave out Vineeth
Football managers, just like cricket captains, come under scrutiny for the decisions they make. The experts and fans see things from a different angle, but the coach's job is to make tough decisions. If they come off, you are hailed as a genius and if they backfire you are doomed. No one exactly knows what prompted Meulensteen to leave out local hero C K Vineeth from their marquee clash against his former club Bengaluru FC in their last game. Blasters lost the match 1-3 on the New Year's Eve in front of a partisan home crowd in Kochi and the coach explained in his post-match press conference that Vineeth had picked up an injury. There was no news of the striker being injured on the match eve and there were many who believed that it was a tactical decision on the part of Meulensteen to rest Vineeth.
Failure to strike a chord with the fans
Kerala Blasters enjoy tremendous support from their loyal fans. But the supporters are demanding and the poor start meant the team management was under pressure to deliver. The fans were indeed unhappy that Blasters had failed to retain the services of Steve Coppell who took them to the final last season. The Englishman had proved a big hit with the supporters and it was a pity that the Sachin Tendulkar co-owned franchise decided to let go Coppell. The crowd cheered Coppell when he made his entry to the middle ahead of Jamshedpur FC's clash with Blasters in Kochi. Meulensteen was never able to build such a bond with the fans, and just like Taylor in the second season, he had no option but to step down as Blasters boss, once the wins deserted him.