The football crazy state of Kerala has been devoid of a I-League club ever since Chirag United Kerala suffered the drop in the 2011/12 I-League. The likes of Eagles FC and other second division clubs have failed to create an impact and the people of Kerala haven’t had a club to associate with for close to three years now. The lack of a top level club however has not deterred the enthusiasm of the fans as they flocked large numbers during the Santosh Trophy, Federation Cup and the India-Pakistan friendly. The state of Kerala has produced and continues to produce quality football players with IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Acheri to name a few and the state has been billed as the best possible area for investment in Indian Football.
It was hence no surprise that Kerala was considered as one of the places by the Indian Super League to set up a franchise and the state erupted in joy when on 13 April 2014, it was announced that Sachin Tendulkar and Prasad V Potluri had won the bidding for the Kochi franchise. The franchise was named Kerala Blasters FC after the nickname of Sachin Tendulkar who is popularly known as the ‘Master Blaster’. The club has managed to catch the attention of youths across the state and already the likes of IM Vijayan linked to some position in the club.
The club cleverly roped in former East Bengal Trevor Morgan as its assistant coach and the former East Bengal coach has assembled a good team in the domestic players draft. The Brit was an extremely popular figure among the East Bengal fans and the players and is credited with building a strong Lal-Hould team that reached the semifinals of the AFC Cup last season in addition to winning two Federation Cup titles. Morgan knows most of the players of the Indian players quite well and his knowledge of the Indian conditions will come on handy for the Kerala Blasters FC in their inaugural season. Morgan picked the players very well and left his mark on the auctions as he picked up as many six current and former East Bengal players.
Goalkeepers – Sandip Nandy, Luis Barreto
Leading from the back is the 39 year old vastly experienced goalkeeper Sandip Nandy who played a vital role in Churchill Brothers’ s I-League triumph in 2012/13 season. The former Indian international is still going strong at this age and will assure a relatively safe pair of hands under the post for Kerala Blasters FC. Giving him company will be the 33 year old Luis Barreto, who has just signed a contract with East Bengal. Barreto brings with him the I-League experience of playing at Mumbai FC and Mohammedan Sporting where he gave a good account of himself despite repeated accusations of time wasting.
Defenders – Gurwinder Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Nirmal Chettri, Sandesh Jhingan , Avinabo Bag
In East Bengal vice-captain Gurwinder Singh and Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blaster have in their ranks two of the most experienced I-League defenders. 28 year old Gurwinder Singh has been one of the most consistent player for East Bengal over the years though the likes of Uga Okpara and Arnab Mondal have bagged the limelight. The sturdy defender has reunited with Trevor Morgan and will look to stake a claim for the national team berth with some impressive performances in the ISL. Right back Nirmal Chettri is the most expensive player in the Kerala Blasters team though the Indian international didn’t have the best of last seasons. The former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan player who has scored some crucial goals will look to contribute offensively as well.
The highly rated Sandesh Jhingan offers a lot of option to the club as the defender can play anywhere in defense. The U-23 defender is currently the part of U-23 national team training in Czech Republic and at 6 feet 2 inches he is definitely an asset for the Kerala team. Youngsters Ramandeep Singh and former Arrows player Avinabo Bag, both of whom played for Eagles FC last season in I-League second division last season complete the back-line for the Kerala franchise.
Midfielders – Mehtab Hossain, Sushant Matthew, Godwin Franco, Ishfaq Ahmed, Renedy Singh
It is however the midfield where the Kerala Blasters have packed a lot of experience. Leading the charge is one of the best midfielders in the nation – Mehtab Hossain. Nicknamed the ‘ Double Cylinder’ , Mehtab Hossain was arguably the most important cog in Trevor Morgan’s team in his spell at East Bengal and it came as no surprise when Kerala Blasters made him their first signing. The industrious midfielder is not shy of tackling and is likely to operate as the deep lying midfielder in the heart of the midfield for the franchise. Mehtab is a regular name in the national team and is undoubtedly the key player for the Kerala side. Godwin Franco is another central midfielder in the team and the 29 year old midfielder had a trial with German club Fortuna Düsseldorf last season. The former Dempo midfielder posses a lethal shot and gave a good account of himself whenever he played at the Goan club.
Ishfaq Ahmed, another former East Bengal player to be reunited with Trevor Morgan, provides width of the left side. The experienced player from Kashmir is versatile and can play anywhere in midfield, on the left wing and even as a support striker. Susanth Matthew, another former East Bengal player, who played for Rangdajied United in I-League last season is another versatile players who has been utilized by Morgan both as a defender and as a defensive midfielder. Susanth Matthew incidentally was the only Keralite to be picked by the club on the first day of the drafts. Renedy Singh has not played competitive football in almost an year and it remains to be seen how the former national left midfielder can perform in the league.
Strikers – CS Sabeeth, Milagres Gonsalves
CS Sabeeth is the second Keralite in the team and the Mohun Bagan forward will look to bring a smile on the faces of his fans by scoring some goals. Sabeeth has been in the shadow of Odafa Okolie at his time in Mohun Bagan but the former Pailan Arrows player is a talented player and has looked good in patches . Sabeeth scored four goals last season and will look to make a mark in the Indian Super League. Former Salgaocar striker Milagres Gonsalves is the second striker in the team. Milagres had a good 2012/13 season where he scored four goals and racked up three assists but he fell down the pecking order after Derrick Periera took over last season.
Trevor Morgan has put in good set of players for Kerala Blasters with the likes of experienced I-League campaigners in Mehtab Hossain, Sandip Nandy, Ishfaq Ahmed bringing in much needed expertise of the Indian conditions. The presence of Susanth Mathews and CS Sabeeth lends a local flavor to the team. However the team will be looking to add experienced foreign strikers which looks slightly weak compared to the other departments. Former England goalkeeper David James has been linked as a marquee player with the franchise for quite sometime now and the addition of the experienced goalkeeper will add solidity at the back. The Kerala franchise will be assured of tremendous fan base and it remains to be seen how the team shapes up as the tournament nears.