Kerala Blasters appoint Serbia's Ivan Vukomanovic as head coach

Coach Ivan Vukomanovic issues instructions during the game between his side Standard Liege and K. Lierse S.K. in Lier, Belgium, in February 2015. William Van Hecke/Corbis via Getty Images

Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters FC have appointed Serbia's Ivan Vukomanovic as the club's new head coach for the 2021-22 season.

Vukomanovic replaces Spaniard Kibu Vicuna, who was sacked in February after a 4-0 loss to Hyderabad ended Kerala's hopes of making the ISL playoffs. Kerala finished the season in 10th place, their three wins and eight draws from 20 games allowing them to finish ahead of Odisha FC, who managed two victories and six draws to finish bottom of the table.

Vukomanovic, who will be the first Serbian to manage KBFC, comes with significant experience coaching in the top divisions of Belgium, Slovakia, and Cyprus. The 43-year-old began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Belgian club Standard Liege in 2013-14 season before his promotion in the next campaign. Under him, the team secured qualification in the UEFA Europa league group stages for two years consecutively.

Vukomanovic has since managed SK Slovan Bratislava in the Slovak Super Liga, with whom he won the Slovakia National Cup, and was last in charge of Apollon Limassol in the Cypriot First Division.

"They have a professional approach about their vision, which gave me a very good feeling. After then seeing the army of fans and support KBFC has, I didn't hesitate a second," Vukomanovic said about his appointment. "Immediately I knew that I wanted to become a member of the KBFC family, and I am very glad it happened. I hope we will all work together to make everyone who loves this beautiful club happy and proud. Yennum Yellow!" he added.

Prior to his coaching career, Vukomanovic had a 15-year-long career as a professional footballer. A former defender who could also play in midfield, Vukomanovic had playing stints with prominent French club FC Bordeaux as well as FC Koln in Germany, Royal Antwerp in Belgium, Dynamo Moscow in Russia and Red Star Belgrade in Serbia.

The Serbian's coaching team will also include Belgian assistant Patrik Van Kets, who comes with 18 years experience as a professional footballing coach. Having worked as an assistant coach at various clubs in France and Belgium, Van Kets possesses a keen eye and ability to nurture and cultivate young talent.

Karolis Skinkys, KBFC Sporting Director, said, "It was a long process to choose the right candidate for the important head coach position. I think Ivan is the right fit for this big challenge and responsibility, someone who can handle the pressure here."

The club conducted an individual training camp after the end of last season to help its players improve their fitness and skills during the off-season. While preseason planning and preparations are already underway, the training camp is also likely to resume soon, with Vukomanovic expected to arrive in India in the coming weeks.

The ISL is due to start in mid-November this year.