The last two seasons in Indian Super League (ISL) ended in disappointment for the Kerala Blasters. While they finished 9th in the 2018-19 season, the 2019-20 season witnessed the Blasters finishing in 6th place, something that has prompted the management to opt for a complete overhaul.
The first appointment was that of Karolis Skinkys as the new sporting director in March, who would look into the football operations. However, his appointment came on the back of a few problems as Sandesh Jhingan and Bartholomew Ogbeche opted to terminate their contracts and move on to greener pastures.
Despite the early setback, the second appointment was Kibu Vicuna as head coach. The Spaniard, who had coached Mohun Bagan to the I-League title, was given the job. With a strong foundation in place, the duo of Vicuna and Skinkys focused their attention on player recruitment.
The first to arrive was Nishu Kumar. Although generally deployed at full-back, the 23-year-old was viewed by the Kerala Blasters fans as a replacement of sorts for Sandesh Jhingan. Ritwik Das, Sandeep Singh, and Puitea were the next to arrive along with Facundo Pereyra from Cyprus.
Kerala Blasters FC then went on to sign the likes of Vicente Gomez, Gary Hooper, and Bakary Kone, all of whom have played in top-flight competitions in Europe and in UEFA.
On paper, the Kerala Blasters have a strong unit and seem to be heading for the title in the upcoming ISL season. However, there are a few considerations that need to be made to accurately determine their chances.
Kerala Blasters - SWOT Analysis
Kerala Blasters management has been phenomenal so far in terms of player retention and recruitment. The retention of key players like Sahal Abdul Samad, Seityasen Singh and Rahul KP has been extremely crucial for building the future of the team. The recruitment has also been spot on with Kibu Vicuna recruiting players to fill important positions. Nishu Kumar, Givson Singh, and Sandeep Singh are expected to play an important role this season.
The big-name players such as Gary Hooper, Bakary Kone, and Vicente Gomez will all be expected to deliver this season. Therefore, a strong squad list is a key strength for the Kerala Blasters this season.
Rehenesh TP, one of the most experienced goalkeepers in the ISL, was the number one between the sticks for the Blasters last season. His departure has left the likes of Bilal Khan, Albino Gomes, and Prabhsukhan Singh Gill vying for the position vacated. All three keepers have made only a handful of appearances in the ISL, and the inexperience in goal could cost the Kerala Blasters in the course of the season.
Another weakness for the Blasters is their lack of squad depth. One could argue that they have players for every role in the squad, but barring the defensive unit, the Kerala Blasters are short of experienced Indian midfield and attacking options.
Over the years, the Indian Super League has had a history of top players in Europe performing quite well in the league. Of course, there have been a few who could not live up to the expectations but a majority of players have performed quite well.
Gary Hooper will be expected to replicate the success of Bartholomew Ogbeche while the likes of Costa Nhamoinesu and Bakary Kone will marshall the defense. Jordan Murray will play backup to Gary Hooper while Sahal Abdul Samad and Seityasen Singh will play alongside Vicente Gomez in central midfield.
Rahul KP and Prasanth K will also be expected to come into the side for a few games. Needless to say, the Kerala Blasters are favorites to secure the title from the outset.
Although it does signal positive intent, the complete overhaul of the Kerala Blasters unit might prove detrimental to the side's chances this season. Apart from the likes of Abdul Samad, Rahul KP and Seityasen Singh, most other players have not really played together. Thus, team chemistry and understanding between players is something that will be lacking in their ranks.
Among the overseas players, Sergio Cidoncha is the only one with ISL experience with the other six having never played in the league. This might prove adverse as the likes of Vicente Gomez and Costa Nhamoinesu would have to adapt to conditions in India.