The Tuskers showed promise in their first three seasons of existence but fell to mediocrity in the next three campaigns.
Kochi-based Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Kerala Blasters have been around since the inception of the league in 2014. The franchise was partially owned by cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar, as a result of which they have been making a lot of headlines since the very first day.
Kerala, often known as the “cradle of Indian football”, has produced several legendary players. However, over the past decade or more, the importance of the state in India’s footballing map had reduced considerably. Hence, when the Blasters came into existence, it was seen as the first sign of Kerala’s resurgence as far as the game was concerned. However, seven years down the lane, the Yellow Army can only boast of moderate success.
Although they reached the final of the Indian top flight twice (in 2014 and 2016) and announced their arrival in style, the last three seasons have been pretty disappointing for the club – having failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of these campaigns. Regardless, some notable players have donned the club’s iconic yellow and blue shirt. Khel Now takes a look at their all-time best XI from the ISL.
Goalkeeper: Sandip Nandy
The veteran shot-stopper from West Bengal spent three seasons at Kerala Blasters. While foreign goalkeepers like David James, Stephen Bywater and Graham Stack were the preferred starters between the sticks during each of these, Sandip Nandy impressed whenever he was given a chance.
Nandy, who has also plied his trade at Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers among other clubs, made a total of 18 appearances for the Blasters and kept seven clean-sheets. His best performances came in the 2016 season, when the Yellow Army made it to the ISL final and finished as runners-up.
Center-Back: Sandesh Jhingan
A Kerala Blasters team without the defender was deemed impossible – until the man himself made the decision to part ways with the club earlier this year.
Despite so, Sandesh Jhingan’s inclusion in this XI is a no-brainer. He started playing for them in the first ISL season as a 21-year-old and till the start of the 2019-20 campaign which he missed due to injury, he held the record for the most appearances. Overall, he has played 76 matches for the Yellow Army and was also part of their teams that reached the final in both 2014 and 2016.
He won the ISL Emerging Player of the Year award in his first season with the Blasters. Over the years, not only did he go on to establish himself as their captain and a fan-favourite, but he also became a mainstay in the Indian football team.
Center-Back: Cedric Hengbart
Cedric Hengbart played for Kerala Blasters in 2014 and 2016 – and the team reached the final on both occasions. He also played for another ISL club – NorthEast United – in 2015.
The 40-year-old played a total of 30 matches for the Kochi-based outfit, scored a goal and recorded four assists. Although, he is occasionally remembered in infamy for missing the deciding penalty in the 2016 ISL final, the Frenchman’s performances played a huge role in the team reaching the showpiece in the first place. His partnership at the back with Aaron Hughes that season will forever be remembered as one of the best centre-back pairings in the history of the club.
Centre-Back: Aaron Hughes
Aaron Hughes signed for the Yellow Army in June 2016 and played in the ISL later that year. Having started his career with Newcastle’s U-18 side, the legendary Northern Ireland international plied his trade with Newcastle, Aston Villa, Fulham, QPR and Brighton before joining A-League side Melbourne City. The following season he arrived in India and is still regarded as one of the best defenders to have ever played for the Blasters.
The 41-year-old captained the side, made 11 appearances, scored a goal and led them to their second league final in two seasons. He retired in 2019 after serving a career that spanned over 23 years.
Right-Midfield: CK Vineeth
A native of Kannur in Kerala, CK Vineeth was truly at home while playing for the Blasters. He played in 43 matches for them and was a real fan-favourite. He also scored 11 goals and provided three assists, playing in a variety of positions for the club.
The 32-year-old was the top scorer for the Yellow Army in the 2016 season and played a key role in their path to the ISL final. In the next few terms, he unfortunately failed to meet expectations and was subsequently loaned out to Chennaiyin FC. But, that does not take away anything from his valuable contributions to his former club.
Centre-Midfield: Mehtab Hossain
The first player drafted by Kerala Blasters ahead of the 2014 season, Mehtab Hossain, made the role of central defensive midfielder his own at the club. Overall, he made 38 appearances for the Kochi-based club under four different head coaches. He was a part of the starting XI in all of these matches.
During his time with the club, not only did Hossain take charge of the midfield, but he also often helped out at the back, especially while fending off counter-attacks. The 35-year-old was one of the key players Steve Coppell wanted to retain before he left the club.
Centre-Midfield: Stephen Pearson
Pearson has played for both Kerala Blasters and ATK FC. He made his ISL debut with the Blasters in 2014, before leaving for ATK.
At the Kochi-based ISL outfit, the former Celtic, Derby County star enjoyed great success and scored a crucial match-winning goal against Chennaiyin FC in the semi-finals. Overall, he clocked 1481 minutes across 17 matches, made 799 passes and had a passing accuracy of over 75%. Following his first spell in India, Pearson returned to Motherwell before coming back to play for ATK in 2016.
Left-Midfield: Josu Prieto Currais
One of the best utility players to have ever set foot at Kerala Blasters – Josu Prieto played in multiple positions – in the midfield, as a left-back, even as a left winger. In the 2015 season, Peter Taylor and Terry Phelan opted to play him in midfield, from where he made 10 appearances, scoring once along with providing four assists.
The arrival of Steve Coppell in 2016 resulted in Josu playing along the flanks more often. In the same year, the Blasters reached the final and the 27-year-old former La Masia product played 14 matches, featuring in the starting XI in all of them. To this date, he remains the club’s top assist-provider with six.
Attacking-Midfield: Iain Hume
Iain Hume or “Humettan” as he is lovingly called by the Yellow Army’s fans, is one of the most popular stars to have played for the Kerala Blasters. The former Canada international is one of the greatest players to have played for Tranmere Rovers, Leicester City and Preston North End in England, but it was his stint with the Blasters that shot him to stardom.
Hume played a total of 28 matches for the Yellow Army and registered ten goals and 3 assists. He was also their first-ever hat-trick hero and their all-time top-scorer, until CK Vineeth and Bartholomew Ogbeche claimed the record for themselves later.
Striker: Bartholomew Ogbeche
Although Bartholomew Ogbeche has played for the likes of Paris-Saint Germain, Deportivo Alaves, Real Valladolid and Middlesbrough in Europe, apart from NorthEast United and Mumbai City FC in India, he will probably be remembered the most for his whirlwind 2019-20 campaign with Kerala Blasters.
In just one season, the 36-year-old managed to break all of the club’s top-scoring records, netting 15 times in just 16 appearances. He was also appointed the captain of the side following Sandesh Jhingan’s injury just prior to the start of the season.
Striker: Messi Bouli
Hailing from Cameroon, Messi Bouli played for FAP Yaounde, Canon Yaounde, Apejes FC, Yanbian Funde and Foolad FC before making his ISL debut with Kerala Blasters in the 2019-20 season.
He clocked 1209 minutes across 17 matches, scored eight goals and registered an assist for the Yellow Army in that campaign. He also struck a lethal attacking partnership with Bartholomew Ogbeche, as the duo alone accounted for 23 of the 29 goals scored by the team.
Head Coach: Steve Coppell
The fact that Kerala Blasters have had ten managers in six years (nine permanent, one caretaker) is enough to prove that the club has not had much success when it comes to finding someone who they can stick with for a period of time. While we hope that Kibu Vicuna will be able to do so starting from the upcoming season, it is Steve Coppell who takes the role of head coach for the Blasters’ all-time XI so far.
During his time in Kochi, the former Crystal Palace and Manchester City boss led his team in 17 matches, winning seven and losing six. His win percentage of 41.18 is the highest of any Kerala Blasters coach till date. Coppell was also responsible for the Yellow Army’s run up to the ISL final in the 2016 season.