Sandesh Jhingan’s departure will be a big void to fill for Indian Super League club Kerala Blasters. The Kochi-based club on Thursday announced that they mutually parted ways with the centre-back, bringing an end to a six-year association.

Such has been his contribution and impact that Blasters have retired the number 21 jersey donned by Jhingan, as the centre-back pursues a fresh challenge in his club career.

During his time at Blasters, Jhingan had become an important figure for the Indian football team and also a leader for both club and country, on and off the pitch.

The 26-year-old, who was recently nominated for the Arjuna award by the All India Football Federation, has also captained the club, which has reached the ISL finals twice.

Kerala Blasters’ poster boy

It was at Kerala Blasters where Jhingan first burst on to the scene during the inaugural edition of the ISL in 2014. Aged 21, Jhingan came into his own and proved to be a key figure for the side even though they missed out on the title that year, finishing runners-up.

What stood out was Jhingan’s ability to seamlessly adapt to different roles, with former player-cum-coach David James deploying him as both centre-back and full-back.

Given his penchant to attack from set-pieces and keep things tight at the back, Jhingan became an indispensable player for Blasters as the season progressed. He tallied two assists that year, proving to be one of the finds of the season which helped him bag the ISL Emerging Player of the Season award.

Sandesh Jhingan's debut season in ISL

Matches 14
Goals 0
Assists 2
Tackles 42
Interceptions 31
Clearances 85
Blocks 9
Passing accuracy 73.14 %

Jhingan made his international debut for India during the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Nepal in 2015 after his breakthrough season. He has since then been a defensive stalwart for the Blue Tigers and Kerala Blasters.

The club had a season to forget in 2015, finishing bottom of the table under manager Peter Taylor. Jhingan was a regular feature for the team before missing the last few matches due to an injury.

During the 2016 ISL season, Jhingan became a core member of Taylor’s successor Steve Coppell’s new-look squad as Blasters shrugged off an inconsistent start to their campaign to make the final again. However, it was deja vu for Jhingan and Blasters as they missed out on the title to inaugural champs ATK, this time in a penalty shootout.

For the following two seasons, Jhingan would go on to captain the club but a poor run of results under Rene Meulensteen and James saw them miss out on the playoffs.

The defender was ruled out for the entire 2019-’20 ISL season after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear just before the season during a friendly match for India against NorthEast United. His presence was dearly missed with Kerala Blasters failing to reach the playoffs under Eelco Schattorie, who lamented the Indian defender’s absence on umpteen occasions.

Sandesh Jhingan's ISL career at Kerala Blasters

Season Matches Goals Assists Tackles Clearances
2014 14 0 2 42 85
2015 10 0 0 26 91
2016 17 0 0 29 83
2017-'18 17 0 1 50 124
2018-'19 18 0 1 47 119

A loyal servant

Kerala Blasters have undergone a host of managerial changes over the years, witnessing as many as nine bosses take charge in seven seasons. Jhingan, though, has proved to be a lynchpin for Blasters, making the most appearances for the club in all competitions. The towering defender has almost twice as many appearances as local hero CK Vineeth, who is the second-most capped player for Kerala Blasters.

Jhingan is also the only Indian player to captain the side.

Most capped players by Kerala Blasters

Player Appearances
Sandesh Jhingan 78
CK Vineeth 44
Mehtab Hossain 38
Sahal Abdul Samad 38
Prasanth K 35
Lalruatthara 33
Cedric Hengbart 30
Courage Pekuson 30
Mohammed Rafi 29
Nemanja Lakic-Pesic 28

So where does Jhingan rank among the top 10 players who have received the most caps in ISL? FC Goa’s Mandar Rao Dessai tops the chart with 97 appearances to his name and like Jhingan, the Goan full-back has spent his career at one club – a feature that has been an oddity in the ISL.

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However, Jhingan is the only centre-back in the list of the top 10 footballers with most ISL caps as league managers have preferred foreign players in key positions such as central defense, midfield and attacking positions.

Full-backs Rahul Bheke and Pritam Kotal have also featured in central defense for their teams but not as regularly as Jhingan.

Most individual appearances in ISL

Player Current club Appearances 
Mandar Rao Dessai FC Goa 97
Narayan Das Odisha FC 90
Lenny Rodrigues FC Goa 87
Harmanjot Khabra Bengaluru FC 86
Subrata Pal Jamshedpur FC 85
Souvik Chakrabarti Hyderabad FC 81
Rahul Bheke Bengaluru FC 77
Sandesh Jhingan - 76
Pritam Kotal ATK  75
Sunil Chhetri Bengaluru FC 74

Although Jhingan has not scored a goal at club level, his defensive statistics point to the impact he has made despite Kerala Blasters’ backline remaining shaky for the past few seasons. The 6-feet-two-inch centre-back, has racked up the most amount of clearances by an Indian defender in the league – highlighting his aerial prowess – apart from making 194 tackles, 93 interceptions and 97 blocks.

These are impressive numbers for a player whose team boasts of one of the worst defensive records in ISL history, with 135 goals conceded from 102 matches. The Kochi side has also suffered more losses (38) than wins (29) registered.

Defenders with most ISL appearances

Player Current Club Appearances  Tackles  Clearances Interceptions Blocks
Mandar Rao Dessai FC Goa 97 144 104 62 55
Narayan Das Odisha FC 90 193 360 158 141
Souvik Chakrabarti Hyderabad FC 81 308 315 142 88
Rahul Bheke Bengaluru FC 77 205 302 82 98
Sandesh Jhingan - 76 194 502 93 97
Pritam Kotal ATK 75 198 330 117 120
Tiri Jamshedpur FC 72 157 606 117 76
Lucian Goain Chennaiyin FC 70 308 607 142 99
Reagan Singh NorthEast United 69 151 297 80 100
Seriton Fernandes FC Goa 59 256 181 78 66

(Stats courtesy: ISL)