Bengaluru, September 20: Kerala Blasters coach David James, a former Liverpool and West Ham United goalkeeper, says Sachin Tendulkar's departure has paved the way for the team to move to a new chapter in the Indian Super League.
Last week, cricket legend Tendulkar, a co-owner of the franchise since its inception in 2014, sold his 20 per cent stake to other promoters comprising a conglomerate of Telugu superstars Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, producer Allu Arjun and industrialist N Prasad. The exit of Tendulkar, the highest run-getter in Tests and ODIs, has definitely left the club staff stunned but James suggests the team and fans can get over it.
"His contribution to the club is immense. He's a god-like character in sports and Indian history. It will have an impact (on the team), of course. But I also think that the demographic has changed for Kerala Blasters fans and the Manjappada.
"In Year One (of the ISL), you will have to understand that people will have shared interests in football and Sachin. (Since his departure), there's little reference to cricket when you talk about Kerala Blasters.
"Initially, I was surprised how much cricket dominated the talk in India. I didn't appreciate how big it was in India back in 2014. But I think there's a balance in Kerala now. What Sachin has done is tremendous but now is the time to write a new chapter with heavy-hearted football fans."
Although the 48-year-old James feels no other person can take Tendulkar's place in the club, he also suggested that the Manjappada think beyond the Tendulkar connect.
"I have to thank Sachin (for hiring me) in Year 1," James said. "I met him in London and he kind of vetted me to see if am adequate to be the player-cum-coach of this club. Had we not had that conversation back in 2014, this conversation wouldn't be possible now," James said.
"That said, I think there was also a movement among the Kerala Blasters fans when they wanted to renovate the cricket pitch at the JN Stadium in Kochi for one match. And they succeeded in moving that game out of Kochi. That shows how passionate the Kerala Blasters fans are about the game."
Tendulkar too, while giving up his stake, said that the Blasters can go on to achieve more success in the ISL.
After reflecting and much discussion with my team, I have decided to exit my association with Kerala Blasters as a co-promoter," Tendulkar said in a statement. "I strongly believe that Kerala Blasters is in very good shape and on its path to attain many more successes with the backing of its fans offering unconditional support. I am very proud of Kerala Blasters and a piece of my heart will always beat for the club," he said.