Indian Super League Kerala Blasters on Thursday announced that star defender Sandesh Jhingan will be leaving the club, ending their six-year association. Kerala Blasters have permanently retired the number 21 jersey as part of the defender’s contribution to the club.

Jhingan, one of the mainstays of the Indian defence, was a fan favourite and played a crucial part in the Kerala side reaching the ISL final in 2014 and 2016 but his departure from the franchise has been expected over the past few days.

Fondly referred to as ‘The Wall’ by fans, Jhingan has always displayed immense passion and enthusiasm both on and off the field. Since his ISL debut in 2014, in which he won the ISL and AIFF Emerging Player of the Year, he has gone on to establish himself as a full India International.

Jhingan, who was named club captain in 2017, has played in two ISL finals and also captained the national team on various occasions. He was most recently also nominated for the Arjuna Award by the AIFF.

“It was great to be a part of Kerala Blasters right from Day one. We’ve built some great memories together as we helped each other grow but have finally decided to part ways. I wish all the good luck to the club going forward. A special mention to the people of Kerala who have always stood behind the club no matter what, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love you have shown myself and Kerala Blasters. I am sure you will continue to support the club in the future as well. Both the club and the fans will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you!,” Jhingan was quoted as saying by the ISL.

“Growing together over the past six years and moulding him into one of the finest center backs to represent our country, has been a proud moment for the club. We are honoured to be a part of and support his journey so far,” Kerala Blasters said in a statement.

“We wish our ‘Wall’ the very best for his upcoming challenges and look forward to him reaching newer heights. Once a Blaster, always a Blaster,” the franchise added.

The Chandigarh-born centre-back has made 76 appearances for the club, becoming their most-capped player. He, however, missed the whole of the 2019-’20 ISL season due to an injury.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank Sandesh for his commitment, loyalty, and passion for the club and its supporters. Kerala Blasters respects Sandesh’s desire to pursue a new challenge and we wish him all the best for this new journey. We know that he will always remain a Blaster at heart. As a tribute to his contributions to the club, we will be permanently retiring his jersey number 21,” Nikhil Bhardwaj, Kerala Blasters’ owner said.

Jhingan had signed a contract extension with the Blasters in 2019 that would have seen him stay at the club for another three years but he is now expected to look for a move abroad, if not with another ISL side.

It is also learnt that Kerala Blasters has asked many of their players to take pay cuts amid a financial restructuring in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is believed to have played a part in Jhingan’s exit.