ISL 2017: How Kerala Blasters could still sign their 8th foreigner during the season
Kerala Blasters are currently in sunny Spain getting all geared up and ready for the upcoming Indian Super League season. The two-time finalists have once again undergone a reshuffle in personnel with their new coaching team led by Rene Meulensteen and brought in a bunch of unfamiliar foreign faces ahead of the November kick-off.
While there have been changes to the Blasters' squad this time out, a few old guns like CK Vineeth and Sandesh Jhingan are still around. With the number of foreign players allowed in a starting XI set to be reduced this season to five instead of the earlier six, Kerala Blasters, like the other nine clubs, have put a lot of thought and consideration into their recruitment process of overseas players.
Having been one of the highest spenders this close season on foreign recruits - roping in the likes of Iain Hume, Wes Brown and Dimitar Berbatov - it was perhaps a surprise that the Blasters didn't complete their quota of eight foreigners, instead settling for one player less.
News and reports from sources close to the club have suggested the Blasters were keen to add another player but former Manchester United assistant manager Meulensteen chose not to exercise that option, keeping it open for a possible mid-season transfer.
It is also to be noted that Hume aside, none of the Blasters' foreign signings this year have had experience of playing in Asia, let alone India. Also, the age profiles of their foreign signings range from one extreme to the other. While Berbatov, Hume, Paul Rachubka and Brown are all on the wrong side of 33, the likes of Mark Sifneos,18, and Courage Pekuson, 22, have barely started their top-level careers.
Hence, for issues related to adaptability and fitness, Kerala Blasters might just have made a masterstroke in keeping a foreigner slot vacant. The January transfer window for Indian clubs opens on 16th January 2018 and runs for a month until 15th February. That aside, the ISL also has a certain window that its clubs have to follow. For example, the summer transfer window for India ended on 31st August this year but the movement of players on a free was restricted to 12 more days as the ISL's pre-season transfer period close on 12th September.
A similar ISL window is also expected to be in place for the month-long January window, and Kerala Blasters will look out for any reinforcement if necessary in that period. The January window for ISL clubs to sign foreigners is between 1st and 15th January, just before the FIFA transfer window opens. ISL clubs can rope in free agents during that 15-day period or make loan signings. For the FIFA transfer window, ISL clubs will follow the normal procedure of recruiting players.
Trialists and free agents have already been spotted with the Blasters players during their pre-season jaunt of Marbella, but nothing has transpired in the form of concrete news.
Should there be an urgent requirement for the Blasters to carry out a transfer mid-season, they have a spot vacant, unlike most other clubs. Blasters aside, only Delhi Dynamos have signed a lesser number of foreigners than their quota of eight, and that automatically gives the Kochi-based outfit an advantage to tinker with their squad, unlike the eight clubs who have signed their foreigners for at least the whole season.
For those eight clubs, any thought of a mid-season tinkering will also involve releasing one of their current players, which might turn out to be an unwelcome prospect with the compensation fee as well as the need to cough up more money to get another player in. That is not a situation Kerala Blasters will be in this season, thanks to their smart strategy.