The two-time ISL finalists are currently going through a lean phase.
Today, May 27, is a special day for Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters. In the year 2014, it was on this day that the Kochi-based club came into existence. Two ISL finals, 32 wins, 141 goals and 122 matches later, the club are celebrating their seventh birthday.
Over the past seven seasons, there have been many moments in the history of Kerala Blasters that have shaped the club’s path moving forward. Today, on the occasion of the Yellow Army’s seventh year of existence, Khel Now takes a look at the best seven of such moments, one from each year.
2014: Sushanth Mathew’s goal and maiden ISL final
On May 27, 2014, Kerala Blasters were formed. Later that year, the club made their first-ever appearance in the ISL, in the maiden season of the league. After finishing in fourth place in the regular season, the club also appeared in the first-ever ISL playoffs.
In the semi-final, the Blasters faced Chennaiyin FC across two legs. The first leg saw David James and co win 3-0, which ensured their spot in the final, despite losing the second leg 1-3. The semi-final first leg clash also witnessed local lad Sushanth Mathew scoring a brilliant goal in injury-time.
The Wayanad-based player struck a brilliant long-ranger from over 40 yards, which flew past hapless goalkeeper Gennaro Bracigliano into the top corner of Chennaiyin’s net. To-date, Mathew’s goal is regarded as one of the best-ever in the league.
2015: Josu Currais’ goal and ISL record attendance
Josu was only 22-23-years-old when he played for Kerala Blasters in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He is still only 28 and fans have not had enough of him yet. If you are a fan of the Yellow Army, you would not have forgotten this goal that the La Masia academy product scored against NorthEast United in his first season in India.
The screamer gave Josu a cult status at the club and it is very easy to forget that he made just 25 ISL appearances for them in two years.
It was also in the same season that Kerala Blasters started recording the highest attendance in the league. An estimated 52,008 was the average home attendance for the club in ISL 2015, a record which was bettered by the same set of fans the following year.
2016: Second ISL final appearance
Kerala Blasters lost the final of ISL 2014 to ATK and got their second chance in 2016. With the scoresheet reading 1-1 after extra-time, the match went into a penalty shootout. Despite taking the lead early, the Yellow Army lost the shootout 3-4 and were thus defeated in their second final in three seasons.
The ISL 2016 final was held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. To-date, the game holds the record for the highest attendance ever for an ISL game. An estimated 80,294 people watched the match from the stands, as ATK lifted the title for the second time. It is also worth mentioning that this has been the last appearance by any KBFC side in the league finals, as the club have since slipped into mediocrity.
2017-18: Signing of Dimitar Berbatov
While this is an episode that KBFC fans do not remember fondly, it is still a defining moment in the club’s history. For one, the club attracted the attention of many more football fans from the state than they had before and it was not surprising.
The Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur legend was such a huge name in the world of football, that fans were over the moon post his signing. But, it was the friction between the forward and then head coach David James that made more headlines during his time in the ISL. More importantly, Berbatov was also underwhelming on the pitch, scoring only once in nine appearances.
His signing was a big failure for the club and it forced the management to sit up and take note. Soon after, Kerala Blasters stopped signing world-class names just because they used to perform well in their prime and started paying more attention to younger stars in their peak who fit their budget.
2018-19: The rise of Sahal Abdul Samad
Kerala Blasters have occasionally been known for developing young players. The biggest example would be Sandesh Jhingan, but more on that later. However, apart from the centre-back, the club did not have many exciting talents for a few years – that is, until the emergence of a certain Sahal Abdul Samad.
The Payyannur-based player debuted for the club in ISL 2017-18, but showed his true colours for the first time the following season. He won the ISL 2018-19 ‘Emerging Player of the Season’ award, before following it up with the AIFF ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ award and a maiden Indian football team call-up. An attacking midfielder by trade, Sahal is currently one of the highest-earning Indian players and is on a long-term deal till 2025 with the Yellow Army.
Although he has been mediocre in the past couple of seasons, fans believe that there is lots more to come from the 24-year-old.
2019-20: First-ever win against Bengaluru FC
The fans of the Yellow Army will surely understand when we say that the Blues are among their biggest rivals. Although both teams have locked horns against each other on the pitch multiple times, the bigger battles have always been off it – among the fans.
Despite this, BFC always had an upper hand over the Blasters – they had never lost a game against them, till the 2019-20 season, that is. The spell was finally broken on February 15, 2020, when a Bartholomew Ogbeche brace gave the Kochi outfit their first-ever win against their Karnataka-based neighbours. For a team that ended their campaign in seventh place, this win gave KBFC a lot of relief.
2020-21: Life after Sandesh Jhingan
On a warm summer evening in May 2020, the Blasters fans were jolted to the core by the news of Sandesh Jhingan’s exit. The centre-back had been a crucial part of the team over the past six seasons and also holds the record for most appearances for them to-date. The departure of Jhingan has left a huge void in the Yellow Army’s squad, something which the management has not been able to fill yet.
The club are still working to find an experienced defender to take his place. Meanwhile, they also finished at a lowly tenth place in ISL 2020-21, after conceding 36 goals from just 20 matches. It was the worst defensive performance in the club’s history. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old finished as runner-up with his new club ATK Mohun Bagan.