The state of Kerala has an undisputed position in the history of Indian football.
From IM Vijayan to VP Sathyan, and from Mohammed Rafi to Sahal Abdul Samad, several players from the state have made their presence felt over time. The 'Sevens Football' in the region has only strengthened their links to the game- links that have been further boosted by the ISL.
Despite the rich football culture, the state had a dismal start to the previous decade. Chirag United Kerala, the state's only representative in the I-League, was relegated after the 2011-12 season.
Then came the newly-formed Kerala Blasters in the ISL, who rejuvenated the love for the game in the 'God's Own Country'. A few years later, Gokulam Kerala joined the I-League, in another major step in Kerala football.
The state now boasts of a decent presence on India's football map, with two quality clubs playing in the two main football leagues in the country. As a result, we are again witnessing the rise of several promising players from the region.
This development is not limited to the local clubs, as Kerala-born talents are in demand in various parts of the country. As a result of this, we have seen several players who have flourished outside their home state.
In this article, we look at five such Kerala-born players in the ISL, who found success outside the state.
5 Kerala-born players who found success outside the state in the ISL:
#5 Jobby Justin
It is safe to tag Jobby Justin a success, given his heroics in Kolkata football lately. The striker made his move to East Bengal, after grabbing the attention of scouts in the Kerala Premier League (KPL).
Justin was a revelation with the Red and Golds, as he scored 11 goals in two seasons. The 26-year-old's ability to find the back of the net at crucial times made him a fan-favourite at East Bengal. He also emerged as the top Indian scorer in the 2018-19 I-League season.
Jobby Justin shifted houses to ATK in the ISL before the onset of the 2019/20 campaign. Though the competition for his spot was intense within the team, the Keralite played his part to perfection. He played 10 matches- 7 off the bench- and scored one goal against FC Goa. The forward had different duties under Antonio Habas, but adapted to the changes swiftly.
Even after a short ISL season, Justin finds a place on this list, considering his past contributions in the I-League.
#4 Denson Devadas
Denson Devadas is no more a celebrated figure in the ISL, let alone in Indian football. But, things were different for the Kannur-born midfielder after the first season of ISL.
Devadas joined Chennaiyin FC under Marco Materazzi in 2014 from I-League giants Mohun Bagan. He played all but one game for Chennai that season. As a defensive midfielder, he provided support at the heart of the defence, and made life easier for the attacking midfielders - Elano Blumer and Bruno Pelissari.
The former Chirag United man recorded 53 tackles that season - the second-most by any player. Denson Devadas joined FC Goa for the 2015 campaign of ISL, but didn't get much game-time. His 2016 season ended with 16 matches on the bench for the Delhi Dynamos.
The 37-year-old had stints with Sporting Goa and Chennai City, but did not have age on his side. Still, the midfielder had a memorable ISL campaign as Materazzi's armour in defence.
#3 TP Rehenesh
A single substandard season with home club Kerala Blasters cannot cancel out TP Rehenesh's five-year journey with NorthEast United. The custodian joined the Highlanders in the inaugural ISL season, and soon became a fan-favourite in Guwahati.
The lad who was accustomed to beach football in Calicut quickly adapted to the new cash-rich league. NorthEast acquired his services on a loan deal from Shillong Lajong. He grabbed attention with 40 saves in 12 matches in 2014. The next year, Rehenesh bettered his own numbers and recorded 47 saves - the most by any goalkeeper.
Though he went down the pecking order at times, Rehenesh continued his stay at Guwahati until 2019. He also had loan spells at East Bengal in the I-League, after signing a permanent deal with NorthEast in 2015.
His stellar spell with NorthEast United makes him a Kerala-born player who enjoyed remarkably good stints outside his home state.
#2 Ashique Kuruniyan
Ashique Kuruniyan is one of the best Keralites in Indian football at the moment. The tale of the boy who overcame several hurdles to don the national team colours is nothing less than astonishing.
Ashique began his youth career with the Pune City academy in 2014. Two years later, he went on a loan spell to Spanish club Villarreal, and played for FC Roda - a feeder team of the former.
After returning, the winger played 26 ISL games for Pune City and made 7 goal contributions. The Malappuram-born player moved to Bengaluru FC for the 2019/20 season, and was a regular presence with 18 appearances.
Ashique's pace and versatility make him a valuable addition to any squad. The 22-year-old is a first-choice pick in Igor Stimac's national team setup too.
There is no doubting the youngster's ISL success so far, and he has earned a glowing reputation in the league.
#1 Anas Edathodika
If someone from Kerala has to surpass Ashique on the list, it has to be the winger's idol- Anas Edathodika. While the centre-back had a decent season with the Kerala Blasters, he had an even better stint with fellow ISL club Delhi Dynamos.
Anas joined Delhi in 2015 from I-League club Pune FC. He played 25 matches in two seasons, and was a pillar at the back for the team. The Malappuram-born defender partnered big names like John Arne Riise and Ruben Gonzales in the heart of the defence.
He was acknowledged as one of the best Indian players in his debut ISL season. Anas joined Jamshedpur FC for the 2017/18 edition and played 8 matches, before a return home to Kerala Blasters. He then moved to ATK for the recently concluded campaign but could feature in only 5 matches owing to injury.
Even with fitness concerns of late, Anas Edathodika remains one of the finest Indian defenders. The centre-back's injury-struck seasons do not take away his golden days at the Delhi Dynamos in the ISL.
Published 17 May 2020, 16:30 IST