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ISL 2016 runners-up, Kerala Blasters XI: Where are they now?

Duckens Nazon landed a contract with Wolves.<p>
Duckens Nazon landed a contract with Wolves.

Kerala Blasters have been one of the most followed teams in the Indian Super League since the cash-rich tournament's inception back in 2014. The passionate Yellow Army comes out to support the team each week, irrespective of the results.

The Blasters have struggled to put on good performances on the pitch in the last couple of seasons, with them ending up a dismal ninth in the 2018-19 season followed up by a disappointing seventh position in the recently concluded 2019-20 season.

The Kerala-based team did make it to the semi-finals of the inaugural edition and ended up as the runners-up in 2016, losing to ATK in the final on penalties after an intense, action-packed 120 minutes on the field.

The Manjappada struggled to win matches in the first half of the 2016 season as they ended up with two draws, two losses, and a solitary win from the first five matches. Steve Coppell was at the helm of the club at the time, and the Englishman did manage to turnaround the results in his favor as his team won 5 and drew a couple of the remaining nine matches.

Let's look at the team that started in the final against ATK and also find out which clubs those players are representing these days.

Defense

Coppell is known for assembling a tight defense, and he did so with Kerala as they conceded only four goals in 7 home matches. Barring a 5-0 humiliation away to league toppers Mumbai City FC, the Blasters conceded only six goals in their remaining six away games.

Goalkeeper: Graham Stack

Stack making a save against ATK (Photo: ISL)
Stack making a save against ATK (Photo: ISL)

The former Arsenal and Reading goalkeeper, Graham Stack, was the second choice behind Sandeep Nandy for most of the season due to the restrictions on the number of foreigners allowed to play in an ISL match. The Irishman was chosen ahead of Nandy in the final against ATK, though, and did a pretty formidable job for the side.

After leaving Kerala Blasters, Stack played in the English fifth tier for a couple of seasons before hanging up his boots in favor of a coaching role. These days, Stack is the head of the goalkeeping academy at English Premier League club Watford.

Right-back: Sandesh Jhingan

Sandesh Jhingan (Photo: ISL)
Sandesh Jhingan (Photo: ISL)

Due to the presence of three excellent foreign centre-backs in the squad, Jhingan had to accommodate himself at right-back for most of the season. Jhingan has since then stamped his name as the best defender in the country and has captained India on several occasions.

Jhingan is still at Kerala Blasters and is the most capped player for the club.

Centre-back: Aaron Hughes

Aaron Hughes celebrating a goal for Kerala Blasters (Photo: ISL)
Aaron Hughes celebrating a goal for Kerala Blasters (Photo: ISL)

Aaron Hughes had a brilliant career since making his debut against FC Barcelona. The Englishman played for Newcastle United for eight years before spending the prime period of his career with Fulham.

Hughes was injured in the 36th minute of the ISL 2016 final against ATK. After the completion of the season, Hughes joined Heart of Midlothian in Scotland before retiring at the age of 39. The third most capped player for Northern Ireland can be seen as a pundit in the Indian Super League these days.

Centre-back: Cedric Hengbart

Cedric Hengbart.
Cedric Hengbart.

The former Caen and Auxerre centre-back, Cedric Hengbart, made an appearance in all of the matches in the 2016 season for Kerala, a feat only achieved by another player, Jhingan. Hengbart missed the deciding penalty in the final against ATK and joined Maltese club Mosta for half a season before hanging up his boots.

Post-retirement, the 39-year old became the coach of the U-17 side at French club Caen.

Left-back: Ishfaq Ahmed

ISL 2017/18: Jamshedpur FC assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed openly ...

The player-assistant coach hailing from Jammu and Kashmir deputized as a left-back in the final of the 2016 ISL season as Josu was ruled out of the match due to an injury. The former Mohun Bagan skipper, Ishfaq Ahmed, is now the assistant coach of the Blasters after calling time on his playing career.

CK Vineeth.
CK Vineeth.

Midfielders

Coppell played with a 4-4-2 at Kerala with the two wide midfielders continuously bombing forward to support the forwards.

Right-midfielder: CK Vineeth

A fan-favorite in Kerala, CK Vineeth was the top-scorer in the 2016 season for the club but failed to nail down a place in the squad as the managers kept changing. He was sent on loan to fellow ISL club Chennaiyin FC in the 2018-19 season. The 31-year old signed for Jamshedpur FC before the start of the 2019-20 season.

Central midfielder: Mehtab Hossain

Mehtab Hossain.
Mehtab Hossain.

The Indian defensive midfielder, Mehtab Hossain, spent ten years at East Bengal before turning out in front of the Yellow Army. After the 2016 ISL final, Hossain moved on to play for Jamshedpur FC and Mohun Bagan before retiring from professional football.

Currently, the 34-year old is managing the I-League second division side Southern Samity.

Central midfielder: Azrack Mahamat

Azrack Mahamat against NorthEast United
Azrack Mahamat against NorthEast United

Mahamat is quite a journeyman, after starting his career in France, he went on to play for clubs in Spain, Sweden Bulgaria, and Greece, before ending up in India.

After an unfortunate defeat in the final, the Chadian footballer went back to Greece before signing for his current club FC Blue Boys Muhlenbach based in Luxembourg.

Left midfielder: Mohammed Rafi

Mohammed Rafi in a Chennaiyin FC shirt
Mohammed Rafi in a Chennaiyin FC shirt

Rafi opened the scoring in the final against ATK before being substituted in the 77th minute. Since then, the 37-year old has played for Chhenaiyin FC and returned to Blasters for the 2019-20 season in which he made a couple of appearances off the bench.

Forwards

The Blasters suffered in front of the net in the 2016 season as they scored the joint-lowest number of goals in the league. Star names like Antonio German blanking in front of goal during the course of the season added to their misery.

Second striker: Kervens Belfort

Kervens Belfort.
Kervens Belfort.

After spending the early part of his career in Europe, Kervens Belfort decided to move to India when Blasters came calling for the Haitian forward. Belfort scored three goals in that season before moving to Syrianska FC.

He returned to India and represented Jamshedpur FC in the 2018-19 season of the Indian Super League. Currently, the 27-year old forward plays for Abahani Limited Dhaka, a professional football club based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Centre forward: Duckens Nazon

Nazon receiving Goal of the Month award in English third tier (Photo: Twitter)
Nazon receiving Goal of the Month award in English third tier (Photo: Twitter)

Like his national teammate Belfort, Duckens Nazon, also signed for the Blasters before the commencement of the 2016 season of the ISL. Since leaving Kerala Blasters, Nazon has turned out for English clubs like Wolverhampton Wanderers, Oldham Athletic, and Coventry City before signing for his current club Sint-Truden which takes part in the Belgian Pro League. He also represented St. Mirren on loan in the 2018-19 season.

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Edited by S Chowdhury
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