The club have roped in some experienced players this season.
The 2020-21 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is less than a month away and all clubs are busy preparing for what promises to be a very exciting season ahead. Kerala Blasters are by no means an exception to this, as the team from Kochi have already completed all their signings. They have also started pre-season training in Goa, where the competition will be held behind closed doors due to the restrictions enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Blasters went through a massive squad overhaul this season, powered by the likes of new sporting director Karolis Skinkys and head coach Kibu Vicuna. The club’s foreign contingent shows a more pronounced change, with six new signings out of a possible seven. Only Sergio Cidoncha has been retained from the last campaign. The Yellow Army completed their foreign set by signing Facundo Pereyra, Vicente Gomez, Gary Hooper, Costa Nhamoinesu, Bakary Kone and Jordan Murray.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at Kerala Blasters’ foreign squad in detail:
Costa Nhamoinesu is the oldest among Kerala Blasters’ overseas options this season. Like Hooper, he has also joined the club on a season-long deal.
Nhamoinesu started his professional career in Zimbabwe, before shifting base to Europe and joining WSS Wisla, a Poland-based club in 2008. Six months later, he moved to Zaglebie Lubin, where he played for five seasons before signing with Czech First League side AC Sparta Prague. In the past seven years, he racked up over 200 appearances, including 40 matches across the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
The former Zimbabwe international has played under Vicuna once before, during the latter’s time as an assistant coach at Zaglebie Lubin. It is his physical attributes that set the 34-year-old apart from most other defenders in the ISL. He is expected to lead the Blasters’ defence in the upcoming 2020-21 season.
The second foreign defensive signing for Kerala Blasters this season, Bakary Kone put pen to paper on a season-long deal. He began his professional career at Etoile Filante (Togo) in 2005 and in the following year, he moved to France and signed for Guingamp. Kone went on to feature in 117 matches for their first-team across five seasons and was also a part of their French Cup-winning side in 2009.
In 2011, he joined Olympique Lyonnais and made 141 appearances for them in five years, winning the French Cup once again in 2011-12 and the French Super Cup in 2012-13. While playing for the Ligue 1 giants, he also played and scored in various competitions, including the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
The 32-year-old later went on to play for LaLiga side Malaga, Ligue 1 team RC Strasbourg Alsace (loan), Turkish Super Lig outfit MKE Ankaragucu and Arsenal Tula in the Russian Premier League. At Blasters, Kone is expected to partner Nhamoinesu in the heart of their backline.
Spanish defensive midfielder Vicente Gomez signed a three-year deal with Kerala Blasters ahead of the upcoming season. Born in Las Palmas, Spain, he began his senior career with AD Huracan in 2007. A couple of years later, he signed for his hometown club UD Las Palmas. He was initially made a part of their ‘C’ team that played in the Tercera Division.
Gomez was then promoted to their first-team ahead of the 2010-11 season. In 2015, Las Palmas were promoted to LaLiga and in the following campaign he made his Spanish top flight debut. He continued playing with them for three more years, before joining Deportivo de La Coruna. In the past two seasons, Gomez racked up 60 appearances for the club, as they finished sixth and 19th in the Segunda Division respectively.
A proper anchorman by trade, the 32-year-old is expected to be positioned just in front of the Blasters’ defence. Kibu Vicuna will most probably use him as the link between the the team’s defensive and attacking departments and he will be asked to break down the opposition’s forays, while also assisting in the build-up play.
The choice to keep Cidoncha is an interesting one, given how the club didn’t retain Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Messi Bouli, the team’s top scorers in the previous campaign. Nevertheless, Cidoncha is still a quality retention and one can assume that the Spaniard will play a vital role in the midfield this season.
Born in Madrid, Cidoncha joined the youth setup of Atletico Madrid as a kid. His senior debut for them came when he was playing for Atletico’s ‘C’ team in the 2009-10 season. He was later promoted to the club’s reserves side and played his first game in 2011 – a 2-1 loss against La Roda CF. Stints at Real Zaragoza, Albacete and Ponferradina followed, before he moved to India by signing with Jamshedpur FC in 2018.
The 30-year-old then joined Blasters last year and registered one goal and three assists in 13 appearances. He also showed that he can build play from the middle, while his attacking instincts were an added bonus. Having maintained a passing accuracy of over 75% throughout his ISL career, one can expect him to be Vicuna’s go-to central midfielder, who will participate in the build-up play by playing forward passes.
Argentine attacking midfielder Facundo Pereyra joined Kerala Blasters on a one-year deal with an option to extend it by another year. The 32-year-old kick-started his senior career in 2006 with CA Estudiantes, a club that plays in the second division of the Argentine football league. He remained with them until 2009 before joining CD Palestino. Since then, he has gone on to play for clubs like Audax Italiano (Chile), San Luis (Mexico), Gimnasia (Argentina), PAOK (Greece), Gabala (Azerbaijan), Racing Club, Colon (both Argentina) and Club Necaxa (Mexico).
Pereyra was most recently a part of Cypriot First Division club Apollon Limassol, where he scored 14 goals and registered three assists in 53 appearances. He is best known for his performances with PAOK in the 2014-15 season, when he netted 11 times along with providing four assists. He has also made 29 appearances in the UEFA Europa League (including qualifiers) and has recorded two goals and five assists in the competition.
Although, he is primarily an attacking midfielder, Facundo Pereyra can also play as a second striker. At PAOK, he was mostly assigned the role of a winger and played it to perfection.
English striker Gary Hooper has joined Kerala Blasters on a season-long deal for the 2020-21 edition of the ISL. He is one of the most experienced forwards in the Indian top flight this season, having made close to 500 club appearances and notching over 200 goals.
Hooper has played for clubs like Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, Celtic, Leyton Orient and Wellington Phoenix. He holds the unique distinction of being the first and only player so far to score in the Premier League, EFL Championship, EFL League One, EFL League Two, FA Cup, English League Cup, Football League Trophy, FA Trophy, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup and the Scottish Premiership.
Under Vicuna, the 32-year-old will play as the first-choice striker. His penchant to position himself well in the opposition’s box, coupled with his accurate finishing from close range makes him a formidable force. In the recently-concluded 2019-20 season, Hooper made 21 league appearances for Phoenix and also played a key role in the club’s third-place finish, by netting eight goals and providing five assists.
On October 24, Kerala Blasters announced Jordan Murray as their final foreign signing of the season. The Australian fulfills the ‘AFC player’ category and hence joins the club as their Asian signing.
Murray started off with Bulli FC as his first team before joining Wollongong Wolves, who compete in the National Premier League in Australia. Known for his keen eye for goals and finishing abilities from a very young age, the New South Wales player joined their senior team for the 2014-15 season, where he found the back of the net on 10 occasions in 38 appearances. He then moved to APIA Leichhardt and in his two campaigns there, he scored 43 goals in 64 appearances, while also winning the Golden Boot in 2018.
Soon after, Murray was signed by the Central Coast Mariners – and now, after spending two years with the A-League side, he has joined the Yellow Army. At just 25, he adds a dash of youth to their attacking department led by the experienced Hooper.