Kerala Blasters are one of the most keenly followed teams of the inaugural India Super League (ISL) season due to the association of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar with the franchise. Tendulkar is considered a God in the subcontinent, so interests in Kerala Blasters from all corners of the country should not come as a surprise. Hence, the best introduction for Kerela Blasters would be it is a franchise co-owned by the “legend” himself. The franchise’s hierarchy have also done a notable job of matching the frenzy and buzz surrounding the ownership by assembling a decent squad headed by marquee signing David James, the ex-England goalkeeper, who will also serve as the manager of the team.
As mentioned earlier, Kerala Blasters are co-owned by Tendulkar, one of the legends of cricket. The former Indian batsman, who has always advocated his love for other sports, went a step ahead this time and is actively involved in not only promoting the ISL and his franchise, but football in India as a whole. Fellow cricketers Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Saurav Ganguly are also involved with their respective franchises, but Tendulkar’s association with the ISL has given the tournament the maximum boost. The name of the franchise is also based on the popular nickname of Tendulkar, “Master Blaster.” Besides Tendulkar, the team is owned by PVP Ventures.
Based in Kochi, Kerala Blasters will play their home fixtures at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in the city. It is a multi-purpose stadium with a capacity of around 75,000, thus making it one of the largest arenas of the country. With more than 70,000 people expected to cheer Kerala Blasters at the venue, the visiting teams will definitely find it hard to negate the “monstrous” support of the home side.
Veteran English custodian David James, who is the manager cum marquee player of Kerala Blasters, will try his hand in coaching for the very first time. The 44-year-old is good in standing between sticks as he holds the record for most number of clean sheets in the Premier League, but it still remains to be seen if coaching is also in his forte. However, James will have Trevor Morgan as his assistant. The 58-year-old possesses the experience of coaching in India, having spent three successful seasons at East Bengal. And it seems that Morgan had a big say in building the squad of Kerala Blasters as a number of players of the franchise had previously played under him during his stint with the Red and Gold. The team’s left-back Jamie McAllister also has a role in the coaching staff.
Goalkeepers- David James, Luis Barreto and Sandip Nandy
With Kerala Blasters roping in two experienced goalkeepers in the form of Luis Barreto and Sandip Nandy despite signing David James, it seems the English shot-stopper will not play all the matches of the ISL. James may feature in the first few games of the franchise, before completely concentrating on managing the team. And if James opts to sit out, it will also enable Kerala Blasters to play an extra foreigner as each franchise cannot field more than five foreign players in their starting line-up. In addition, both Barreto and Nandy are experienced campaigners, having played for various I-League clubs and can step into action in a moment’s notice.
Defenders- Cedric Hengbert, Raphael Romey, Erwin Spitzner, Jamie McAllister, Colin Falvey, Gurwinder Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Saumik Dey, Nirmal Chettri, Avinabo Bag, Ramandeep Singh
Kerala Blasters boast of a solid defence with a nice blend of foreign and Indian players. Cedric Hengbert is a known name in French football and has amassed more than 350 appearances for Caen, Auxerre and Ajaccio combined. The 34-year-old right-back, who has never represented his country, is a competent defender and is also a threat going forward down the flanks. Scottish defender Jamie McAllister may be past his prime, but the 36-year-old former Aberdeen and Hearts left-back is one of the high-profile names in Kerala Blaster’s back-line. McAllister’s role in the franchise’s coaching staff also means that he will have an added responsibility of guiding the young defenders of the team. The other three foreign defenders Raphael Romey, Erwin Spitzner and Colin Falvey are also decent picks and are expected to make their marks in the ISL. The Indian defenders of the team are top draw too. The likes of Nirmal Chettri, Saumik Dey and Gurwinder Singh are all seasoned footballers with Sandesh Jhingan, Avinabo Bag and Ramandeep Singh expected to provide the necessary back-up.
Midfielders– Duleep Menon, Godwin Franco, Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Renedy Singh, Sushanth Mathew and Victor Herrero Forcada
Kerala Blasters have a wealth experienced Indian players in midfield, with Penn Orji and Victor Herrero Forcada being the only two foreigners in the department. 28-year-old Spaniard Forcada is a relatively unknown player, who has spent the majority of his career playing for Spanish lower division clubs. On the other hand, Penn burst into the Indian scenario with JCT in the 2009/10 campaign before signing for Kolkata giants East Bengal the following season. The Nigerian, who played for fellow Kolkata outfit Mohammedan Sporting last season, spent three very successful years at East Bengal under the tutelage of Morgan. In the absence of big named foreign players in the department, the onus will be on the quartet of Mehtab Hossain, Ishfaq Ahmed, Renedy Singh and Sushanth Mathew to provide the necessary steel and creativity to Kerala Blaster’s midfield. Godwin Franco, who was selected by German club Fortuna Dusseldorf for trials last year, is another notable name in this segment, while Duleep Menon was handpicked by franchise co-owner Tendulkar after the 27-year-old put in an impressive display while playing for Central Excise in a pre-season game against Kerala Blasters in late-September.
Forwards– Andrew Barisic, Iain Hume, Michael Chopra, Pedro Gusmao, C.S. Sabeeth and Milagres Gonsalves
Michael Chopra is definitely the stand-out name in this segment. The 30-year-old is a product of Newcastle United’s youth system and made his first-team debut for the club in November 2002. Chopra, who also boasts of Sunderland, Cardiff City and Ipswich Town amongst his former employees, represented England at various youth levels as well. The forward is a proven goalscorer and his displays upfront will be vital in shaping up Kerala Blasters’ maiden ISL campaign. Andrew Barisic is another one of Morgan’s former charge at East Bengal. The Australian, who failed to hit the ground running during his previous stint in the country, will be eager for a better showing this term around. Iain Hume and Pedro Gusmao are the other two foreign strikers of the franchise, with the latter being an exciting prospect from Brazil. Hume, on the other hand is a more accomplished player. The 30-year-old Canada international, who can also be deployed wide on the wings, has previously played at a host of English clubs. Indian players in this segment consists of C.S. Sabeeth and Milagres Gonsalves, both of whom will be looking to up their game after impressing in the domestic league over the past couple of seasons.
Possible Starting Line-Up
David James’ side are likely to play in a 4-1-2-1-2 system with Mehtab Hossain playing the role of a blocker, deployed just ahead of the defence comprising of Hengbert, Chettri, Gurwinder Singh and McAllister. Ishfaq Ahmed and Franco will look to patrol the wings while Penn will play in the hole behind the striking duo of Sabeeth and Chopra.
Player to Watch Out For – Penn Orji
Penn went off the boil after joining Mohammedan Sporting at the start of the previous season. However, the Nigerian was brilliant during his three-year spell at East Bengal under Morgan. And with the former Hull City development coach being his mentor again at Kerala Blasters, the nippy midfielder will be looking to recreate some of the magic which made him a hit amongst the Red and Gold faithful.
Possible Finish– 5th
Despite having a solid defence at their disposal, Kerala Blasters cannot be considered serious title contenders. The franchise lacks depth and creativity in both the midfield and forward departments. It seems Chopra will be their key man, and it is difficult to see from where the goals will come if rival defences bottle up the former Newcastle and Sunderland player.