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
|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
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
|Sahal Abdul Samad||38|
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.
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
|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|
|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
|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|
|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)