As a mark of respect for his six years with them, the club retired the defender’s iconic No. 21 jersey after parting ways with him.
By now we all know that Sandesh Jhingan has waved goodbye to Kerala Blasters and the Manjappada. It will definitely be extremely hard to imagine the tall, bearded, tough-looking defender in any other club jersey apart from the one that he has been donning since 2014, but it’s time for the Kochi-based outfit and their fans to accept it.
When Jhingan signed for the Blasters at a young age, he was a relatively unknown figure. Years later, it is safe to say that very few Indian players are as popular as the Chandigarh-born centre-back. That said, Khel Now analyzes his stint with the Yellow Army:
Players who are looking to make it to the big leagues, generally need a club that can act as a pillar of support to them by giving them ample opportunities to perform and impress. For Jhingan, that club was Kerala Blasters.
Although, he had previously played for the likes of United Sikkim and Rangdajied United in the I-League (he even played a role in the former’s promotion from the I-League 2nd Division to the then top flight), Blasters were the ones to back him to perform on the big stage. Infact, he was also their second pick in the 2014 ISL auctions after Mehtab Hossain and that shows how well they supported him in the early phase of his Indian Super League (ISL) career.
Sandesh Jhingan responded in style by playing for a total of 1252 minutes across 14 matches in his first season. He recorded the highest number of tackles among his teammates and also registered two assists, second only to Iain Hume. He also won the ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ award that year – and one can understand that none of this would have happened if the Blasters hadn’t backed him from the beginning.
The Blasters did well in the first three seasons of the ISL, reaching the final twice. But, in the next three campaigns, they suffered a series of setbacks including negative results, repeated failures in qualifying for the playoffs, the constant changing of head coaches and so on. But, the one thing that always remained the same was the standard of Jhingan’s performances at the back, as he single-handedly managed to unite the team and their fans on numerous occasions. During this phase, we also saw the development of his leadership skills – yet another aspect that the Manjappada are going to miss severely in the days to come.
In case you didn’t know, the 26-year-old also holds the record for the most competitive appearances made by any Kerala Blasters player, with 76 caps to his name. He was a constant presence on the team-sheet and slowly, he carried forward his form to the Indian national team, where he is currently a mainstay in the back four. At present, he is also regarded as the most expensive Indian defender in the ISL.
While Kerala Blasters can stake a claim to Jhingan’s overall development from a young defender to one of the toughest players in the country, one thing would still haunt the player himself for sure – despite being a part of the club for as many as six seasons, he did not win a single trophy with them.
They stumbled at the final hurdle in both the 2014 and 2016 in the ISL and in the next two campaigns, they could not even make it to the playoffs. Interestingly, the defender played for Bengaluru FC in 2017 for just six months on a loan deal and also won the 2016-17 Federation Cup with them.
Sandesh Jhingan then had a chance to go for glory in the recently concluded 2019-20 season, but a horrific injury and a six-month-long recovery period kept him away from the team altogether.
The repeated set of injuries is another drawback from his stint with the club. Across six years, Jhingan suffered three minor and three major injuries to his left knee, the last of which kept him sidelined for the entire length of the 2019-20 ISL season.
Overall, Jhingan’s stint at Kerala Blasters seems to be a case of a glass half full, yet half empty and in the end, it is up to fans to decide how they choose to view it. Regardless, he will remain one of the greatest players ever to don the yellow and blue shirt of the club.