Kerala Blasters were exceptional in the inaugural edition of Indian Super League (ISL). Off the field, the Nehru stadium in Kochi attracted fans in droves and home games of the Blasters saw a packed-to-capacity stadium. No wonder, on the field the performance was equally phenomenal as David James’s boys surpassed all expectations and made a few pundits look rather silly.
Blasters were slow off the blocks, unable to string a couple of victories together. But when they got home, they were simply unstoppable and capped it all with an amazing home game against South rivals Chennaiyin FC in the semifinals. If not for a stunning save from Atletico de Kolkata goalkeeper Edel Bete in the final, Kerala Blasters would have even celebrated a famous football triumph last year.
Having gone as far as the final last year, can Blasters get any better?
Blasters have maintained a relatively low profile but their preparations have not been hampered. Marquee manager Peter Taylor has gone about the task of selecting players carefully and now has a team that can match, and even better, teams in the competition.
Right on top of the chart is Carlos Marchena. Kerala’s marquee signing won the 2010 World Cup, 2008 European Championship and 1999 under-19 World Cup with the La Roja and will look to add the ISL to his impressive trophy cabinet just like another Spaniard, Luis Garcia.
The focus on younger foreign players is another striking aspect of Kerala Blasters as many players from European academies have been handpicked. For a start there is Jose Prieto (23), a product of the Barcelona academy, former Arsenal player Sanchez Watt (24) and Queens Park Rangers’ young talent Antonio German (23).
Among others, Portuguese defender Joao Coimbra (29) is an interesting buy in midfield, while Bruno Peron, a Brazilian, and Marcus Williams, formerly with Sheffield United, will give Taylor enough flexibility in defence.
On the domestic front, assistant coach Trevor Morgan has opted for tried and trusted names, many of whom he has worked with in the past during coaching stints at East Bengal and Dempo Sports Club.
The fans will be pleased to see the return of Sandesh Jhingan, the young defender who was voted the best young player last year and who, early this month, won every Indian football supporters’s heart with a spirited performance against Iran in a World Cup qualifier.
Mohammed Rafi, Cavin Lobo, Peter Carvalho, CK Vineeth and Shankar Sampingiraj are the new additions to the domestic player list.
Kerala Blasters have only one foreign player — Victor Forcada better known as Pulga — from last year’s squad, and with a new manager at the helm of affairs, it’s quite difficult to say how the team will line-up. Taylor may opt for an attacking line-up or play safe at the start as he gauges the strengths, and weakness, of his opponents.
One thing is for certain, though: the fans will keep filling up the stands, and if Taylor keeps delivering on his promise to make Blasters better than last year, the 60,000 capacity Nehru stadium may not have enough space for everyone.
Carlos Marchena (marquee player), Victor Forcada, Josue Prieto Currais, Sanchez Watt, Peter Iain Ramage, Christopher Dagnall, Stephen Michael Bywater, Bruno Caldini Perone, Joao Coimbra, Antonio Timothy German, Marcus Williams, Sandip Nandy, Gurwinder Singh, Nirmal Chettri, Ramandeep Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Saumik Dey, Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehtab Hossain, Mohammed Rafi, Cavin Lobo, Peter Carvalho, CK Vineeth, Shankar Sampingiraj.
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