Kerala Blasters are two-time runners-up in the Indian Super League (in 2014 and 2016) but have flattered to deceive lately.
They have failed to qualify for the playoffs of the past three seasons and it’s a fact that weighs heavily on the team that has undergone a series of huge changes ahead of the new season. Off-field, the Tuskers are among the most popular club in the league when it comes to fan support but on-field, they haven’t been able to maintain a performance graph to match it.
In a huge overhaul this season, Blasters appointed Karolis Skinkys as their new sporting director and signed I-League- winning Mohun Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna as their new manager.
However, a change that too many Manjapadda loyal won’t be happy about is the departure of Sandesh Jhingan after six years. The Indian team defender leads the Blasters high-profile departures, which includes Bartholomew Ogbeche, Raphael Messi Bouli, Mohammad Rakip and the other foreign players from last season’s squad. CEO Viren D’Silva has also left the club.
Fresh from a triumph, how Vicuna shapes the underperforming club with an almost new-look squad into his style of play will be an interesting storyline to follow this season.
Kerala Blasters record in the ISL
|2014||Finished fourth (runners-up)|
|2016||Finished second (runners-up)|
What’s changed for 2020-’21
Ins: Yendrembam Denechandra, Costa Nhamoinesu, Gary Hooper, Vicente Gomez, Facundo Pereyra, PS Gill, Puitea, Ayush Adhikari, Sandeep Singh, Rohit Kumar, Ritwik Das, Albino Gomes, Nishu Kumar, Givson Singh, Naorem Singh, Jordan Murray, Bakary Kone
Outs: Sandesh Jhingan, Sabin Raj Kunniyil, Raphael Messi Bouli, TP Rehenesh, Vlatko Drobarov, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Pritam Singh, Holicharan Narzary, Pragyan Gogoi, Batholomew Ogbeche, Matej Poplatnik, Slavisa Slovanovic, Nikola Krcmarevic, Mohamad Rakip, Mohammed Rafi, Courage Pekuson, Darren Caldeira, Mario Arques, Mustapha, Raju Gaikwad, Gianni Zuiverloon, Abneet Bharti
Despite such sweeping changes, it appears that the Blasters have done a pretty good job of replacing the big names that have left. Nevertheless, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Raphael Messi Bouli, Sandesh Jhingan, Mohammad Rakip are big boots to fill.
The attacking trio of Facundo Pereyra, Gary Hooper and Jordan Murray looks solid and the signing of Nishu Kumar from Bengaluru – which made him the highest paid Indian defender – is an important one.
The two big advantages for Blasters this season look to be the signing of Vicuna as coach and retaining a strong core of Indian youngsters.
Jeakson Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Jessel Carneiro and Rahul KP are all promising talents and will stay with the Blasters. Nongdamba Naorem, member of Mohun Bagan’s I-League winning team who has worked with Vicuna before and Givson Singh of the Indian Arrows are also strong prospects.
Of these Sahal seems to the brightest hope, having been pegged as the future of Indian football for a while now.
After a rather disappointing campaign last term, he’ll be looking to hit the heights that are expected of him. With several other promising young Indian players around him, his task will be made easier.
So heading into the new campaign, the Indian contingent is definitely one of Kerala Blasters’ biggest strengths.
Despite the string of new signings, a bit of imbalance in all departments is evident. The Tuskers seem to be lacking numbers in defence and have too many in midfield.
Nishu Kumar will have the big task of replacing Jhingan, who developed into a big star at the Blasters.
Another challenge for the Blasters would be adapting Vicuna’s style of play in a very short period of time. With an almost entirely new foreign contingent, the players may need time to get their act together. ISL is a short tournament and a slow start could prove to be fatal for teams.
Coach – Kibu Vicuna
Spain’s Kibu Vicuna is the latest in the Blasters’ list of managerial changes.
Vicuna may be new in the ISL but he already has solid credentials in Indian football, leading Mohun Bagan to the I-League title last season in his first and only season in charge. With the iconic club now merged with reigning ISL champions ATK, Vicuna moved down South and has the responsibility and challenge of reviving the Blasters’ fire.
A typically Spanish coach, he has a very attacking style of play and he will be expected to mould the Blasters in the similar pass-and-score style.
Player to watch out for – Gary Hooper
Gary Hooper comes into the ISL with Premier League pedigree and a history of scoring goals. The former Norwich player has big boots to fill, replacing Bartholomew Ogbeche who was the joint top scorer in ISL last season and a talisman for the club. He has now joined Mumbai City FC.
With over 100 goals in the past decade across clubs like Celtic, Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, and Wellington Phoenix, a lot will be expected of the 32-year-old in front of the goal.
|Albino Gomes||Abdul Hakku||Arjun Jayaraj||Facundo Pereyra|
|Bilal Khan||Bakary Kone||Ayush Adhikari||Gary Hooper|
|Muhit Khan||Costa Nhamoinesu||Jeakson Singh||Jordan Murray|
|PS Gill||Jessel Carneiro||Vicente Gomez||Naorem Singh|
|Lalruatthara||Lalthathanga Khawlhring||Shaiborlang Kharpan|
|Nishu Kumar||Givson Singh|
|Sandeep Singh||Nondamba Naorem|
|Sahal Abdul Samad|