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, six 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.
Right-Back: Mohammad Rakip
After impressing for the Kerala Blasters Reserves team in the I-League 2nd Division in the 2017-18 season, Mohammad Rakip has continued to do the same with their senior team in the ISL.
The 20-year-old was handed his debut in the Indian top flight by David James at the start of the 2018-19 season. He has made a total of 27 appearances for them till date. The fact that he was in the starting XI in all the 15 matches he played in the recently-concluded 2019-20 season, highlights his importance to the team.
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 39-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.
After an I-League title-winning campaign with Aizawl FC in the 2016-17 season, Lalruatthara moved to Kerala Blasters and till date, has played in 33 matches for them. He was the ISL Emerging Player of the Year in 2017-18 and did well in the following season too.
Although, the same cannot be said about his 2019-20 campaign, much is still expected of the 25-year-old who is arguably the best left-back to play for the Yellow Army.
Central Defensive Midfielder: 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.
Right Midfielder: 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 31-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.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Iain Hume
Iain Hume or “Humettan” as he is lovingly called by the Manjappada, 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.
Left Midfielder: 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.
Striker: Bartholomew Ogbeche
Although, Bartholomew Ogbeche has played for the likes of Paris-Saint Germain, Deportivo Alaves, Real Valladolid and Middlesbrough in Europe and NorthEast United in India, he will probably be remembered the most for his whirlwind 2019-20 campaign with Kerala Blasters.
In just one season, the 35-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 Jihingan’s injury just prior to the start of the season.
Striker: Antonio German
Only one foreign star has played for both of Kerala’s football clubs, the Kerala Blasters (ISL) and Gokulam Kerala (I-League) – and that is Antonio German. The Englishman registered six goals and five assists from 22 matches for the Blasters and was one of the highest-scoring players for the club in the 2016 season.
Frequent injuries and a dip in form marred the later stages of German’s career with the Blasters – but when he was fit, he was mostly unstoppable. His finishing skills are also commendable, as they made him one of the club’s most lethal strikers of all-time.
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.