Kerala Blasters FC squad, season preview, prediction | ISL 2019-20
We continue our series of previews of the ten teams for the upcoming season of the Indian Super League (ISL), with a closer look at the Kerala Blasters, who in some ways, have been the perennial bridesmaids of the ISL.
But after making two finals in the first three editions of the ISL, the Blasters have endured disappointment for two seasons in a row, with three different managers at the helm not being able to help their fortunes.
Rene Meulensteen, David James and Nelo Vingada have all tried to propel the Blasters into the playoffs but failed, with the consensus being that the playing staff at their disposal wasn't good enough.
However, with a change at the top - with Viren D'Silva replacing Varun Tripuraneni as CEO - fans are hopeful that the recruitment issue would be fixed now.
The fans, who stayed away for much of the second half of last season, will need to be brought back onside, and the club will hope that the recruitment will have done just that. Of course, even they know that in the end, it is the performances on the pitch that will matter.
Indeed, they have made a number of signings which would have the fans' mouths watering, with proven players such as Bartholomew Ogbeche, Sergio Cidocha and Mario Arques making the move down south from their respective Indian clubs.
The Blasters' pre-season was not ideal, with their training camp in the UAE cut short after they'd played only one friendly, thanks to a lack of funding from a partner they had agreed terms with.
So, eventually, like a lot of other teams, Kerala and new coach Eelco Schattorie had to settle for pre-season preparations being held in home comforts, with the Blasters recently also going down 1-0 to Real Kashmir in a friendly match.
Kerala Blasters Squad
The Blasters' recruitment team have been on overdrive throughout the off-season, and the result of that is the team now has a completely new set of foreign players.
Ogbeche, Cidoncha, Arques and Gianni Zuiverloon have made the moves from within the ISL, while Brazilian defender Jairo Rodriguez, Senegalese midfielder Mouhamadou Gning, and Cameroonian forward Raphael Messi Bouli have also been signed.
With Dheeraj Singh among the notable departures from the club, they have also signed three new goalkeepers, all of whom incidentally are from Kerala. TP Rehenesh joined from NorthEast United, while Bilal Khan and Shibinraj Kunniyil joined from Gokulam Kerala.
The trend of recruiting players from Kerala was clear in other positions too, with the likes of Arjun Jayaraj and Rahul KP also joining the Blasters.
Arques and Rodriguez, though, have not been able to play full roles in the pre-season, with both still recovering from injuries sustained before the start of preparation.
Schattorie will also hope that the absence of Sandesh Jhingan will not hurt the club after it emerged that the defensive talisman would miss the majority of the season with an ACL tear in his left knee.
Full Kerala Blasters squad
Goalkeepers: TP Rehenesh, Bilal Khan, Shibinraj Kunniyil
Defenders: Gianni Zuiverloon, Jairo Rodriguez, Sandesh Jhingan (injured), Lalruatthara, Mohammad Rakip, Pritam Kumar Singh, Abdul Hakku, Jessel Carneiro
Midfielders: Mario Arques, Sergio Cidoncha, Mouhamadou Gning, Sahal Abdul Samad, Darren Caldeira, Seityasen Singh, Rahul KP, Jeakson Singh, Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Halicharan Narzary
Forwards: Bartholomew Ogbeche, Raphael Messi Bouli, Mohammed Rafi
Eelco Schattorie takes over from Nelo Vingada for the new season, having left his role at NorthEast United FC. The appointment of Schattorie was a huge cause for optimism among Blasters fans, after what he achieved with the Highlanders last season, taking them to their first-ever semifinal appearance.
By the looks of their recruitment, it does seem like Schattorie has had a big say in the players that he has managed to bring in. With the likes of Redeem Tlang and Puitea last season, Schattorie showed that he could bring the best out of the Indian youngsters as well.
With U-17 World Cuppers Rahul KP and Jeakson Singh getting their first taste of ISL action this season, much will be expected from Schattorie to get the best out of the two youngsters.
They certainly have the squad to make the semifinals, with some decent Indian talent being complemented by foreigners who have done well in the ISL before. That is crucial because as we have seen in past ISL seasons, success in other leagues hasn't necessarily translated to success in the ISL.
The Blasters themselves experienced that last season with Slavisa Stojanovic and Matej Poplatnik just not able to get the number of goals that were required of them.
Can Schattorie work his magic for a second season in a row? The ingredients are there, for sure!