To the humid conditions in Kochi from the freezing weather in Iceland flew Hermann Hreiðarsson as he agreed to take up a challenge put forth by David James.
Englishman David James had already taken the Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters to the final of the competition in 2014 but when he joined Blasters mid-way through the 2017-18 season for a second stint, he was without adequate staff. Enter Hreiðarsson, his trusted lieutenant and friend with whom he expects to realize a long-term project that yields trophies for Kerala.
"I spoke to David about four years ago," Hreiðarsson spoke exclusively to Goal. "He knew the place. And he had been here before and he was very excited. It didn't take long (to convince me).
"I was excited. I must admit I did not know much about the league. But I knew there were improvements being made and there were plans on making it an improved and bigger league."
Under Rene Meulensteen, Kerala Blasters registered just a single win in seven games and his reign was brought to an end by the club after a frustrating 1-3 defeat to rivals Bengaluru FC on New Year's Eve, 2017. David James and his staff had less than a week to sort things out as Pune City came visiting. The performances of the team were getting better and the Yellow Army were in the race for the play-offs until the last few rounds of the league. But it wasn't easy.
"The players responded to us magnificently straightaway, really. We started winning games and that helped a lot because then you can try and get the momentum going.
"We were working very hard behind the scenes. I did not know a lot about any team or the players. We watched hours and hours of video of our opponents and ourselves to find a way to change things around.
"It is our fighting spirit and teamwork that helped us come back. It is all about the team and the players responded magnificently. It didn't matter who we played against, we were in it every game. I think we brought with us some energy at the start but then our game also improved as we went along," said the former Portsmouth defender.
Hreiðarsson also cited the need to improve the Indian players at the club in order to achieve success. Anyone who performs well in training or in matches will get their deserved opportunity in the first team, according to the assistant coach.
"I knew there were a lot of talent but it is one thing to be talented or have the skills and it is another thing to be a performer on the pitch and fit into the team. That's what we have been trying to implement here.
"It's not just about being good in training, it is about how we perform in the game. There has been a lot of competition in the squad and David has shown that anyone who performs well in training and in games makes a good shout for the shirt (to be in the first team). It's a very healthy competition in a healthy environment."
The 43-year-old from Reykjavik is going to be part of a long-term project headed by James at Blasters but patience is key if they are to build a great team capable of winning trophies.
"This is just the start. We need consistency, it takes a lot longer than a couple of months to really change the mindset of the whole team and individuals. That's the biggest factor for us here. We are going to make sure that everything we do here is for the long-term. There is work to be done but that's the beauty of it. There is room for improvement in many departments. It's great to be part of something that's being built."
One bright spark for the future that came out of a disappointing 2017-18 season for Kerala Blasters is the emergence of Lalruatthara as an outstanding first-team talent. The youngster, who can play at left-back, centre-back and right-back, started for the senior Indian national team against the Kyrgyz Republic in the final Asian Cup qualifier match on March 27 and recently signed a new three-year contract at the club.
As a defender, Hreiðarsson knows how to mould the talented 23-year-old and improve his game. "Lalruatthara is a strong and fit boy. His situation (regarding areas to improve) is the same as most local players, understanding of the game. I can guarantee that the attitude is spot on. There is never any moaning or complaining. That's very rewarding when you are trying to improve.
"With Lalruatthara, you can always improve everything. Even when you are 36, you are still improving. If you are not, you are not doing your training right. He's a very young player and he has got a lot to learn in many different ways. He's got a great mentality."
The former Iceland International is hoping to be part of a successful term at Kerala Blasters. The men behind the scenes know that the club has a huge fanbase to appease but Hermann Hreiðarsson wouldn't have taken up the challenge if it was considered easy.