Each of these players have succeeded in creating a positive impact in the top division league.
Called the ‘cradle of Indian football,’ the state of Kerala has always produced great footballers. These players have been able to carve out niches of their own in the world of Indian football. Legends such as IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri and VP Sathyan dominated long before even the idea of the Indian Super League (ISL) was born. On the other hand, the likes of Anas Edathodika, Rahul KP and Sahal Abdul Samad continue to do justice to the football glory of the state.
Due to the advent of the ISL and the continued presence of the I-League, Indian football has come a long way over the past few years. Between the two leagues, the ISL understandably enjoys more popularity among the masses – as it is a richer league, which boasts of more star names than the I-League.
On that note, Khel Now take a look at how an ISL XI of football players from Kerala would look like:
Goalkeeper: TP Rehenesh
Hailing from Kozhikode, Rehenesh is one of the very few goalkeepers that have played in every season of the ISL to-date. He started his league career with NorthEast United in 2014. He enjoyed a brilliant campaign in ISL 2015, pulling off 47 saves, the most by any goalkeeper that season and securing four clean-sheets, the most by an Indian goalkeeper that season. the 28-year-old joined Kerala Blasters ahead of ISL 2019-20, but after a mediocre season with them, signed for Jamshedpur FC last summer.
At JFC, he was one of their best players. With 54 saves and eight clean sheets from 19 matches, Rehenesh kept the Men of Steel in the playoffs race till the end. The team, however, failed to cross the line but the goalkeeper can be proud of what was a job well done by him.
Right-Back: Prasanth Karuthadathkuni
Prasanth is one of the longest-serving names at Kerala Blasters at the moment. The 23-year-old joined the Yellow Army in 2016 and has remained with the club since, barring a five-month loan stint with Chennai City in 2017. Also hailing from Kozhikode like Rehenesh, he is known for his versatility and pace.
At Kerala Blasters, he has played as a right winger, midfielder and also as a right-back. While right-back is not his usual position, he was assigned it by then head coach Kibu Vicuna in ISL 2020-21. In the limited opportunities that he got, Prasanth impressed and emerged as a player to watch out for. While he still has to improve on his passing in the final third, crossing and finishing skills, his pace and defensive skill-set make him a worthy addition to the XI.
Centre-Back: Anas Edathodika
The Indian international did not play in ISL 2020-21 due to injury, but is considering a return to the league next season. One of the greatest contemporary centre-backs hailing from Kerala football, Anas Edathodika has played for as many as seven different teams across the I-League and the ISL.
The Malappuram-based player has played for Mumbai FC, Pune FC and Mohun Bagan in the I-League, apart from Delhi Dynamos, Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters and ATK in the ISL. He also won the top division league once – with ATK in the 2019-20 season.
Centre-Back: Mashoor Shereef
Mashoor Shereef had a splendid season in the league. With NorthEast United, he reached the playoffs and earned plaudits along the way. Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac also handed him his first call-up to the team in March – after which he made his debut for the national team in an International Friendly against Oman.
Having begun his career as a forward, Shereef made his I-League debut with Chennai City, winning the title in the 2018-19 season as a forward. But, in the season that followed, he converted to a centre-back, due to his club’s defensive woes. In ISL 2020-21, he made 11 appearances, registering 15 tackles, 10 interceptions, 39 clearances and 18 blocks.
Left-Back: Rino Anto
After a long career that spanned across multiple clubs including Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Bengaluru, ATK and Kerala Blasters, Rino Anto signed for SC East Bengal ahead of ISL 2020-21. But, the Robbie Fowler-led side did not register him for the league. Aged 33, the Thrissur-based player is one of the most experienced full-backs in India right now.
Rino Anto has also played for India, initially for the U-19 and U-23 teams and later for the senior side. He made his national team debut on 11 June 2015 against Oman in a Group D game in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in a 1-2 loss at home.
Right Midfielder: Rahul KP
The first and only player from Kerala to play in a FIFA World Cup to-date, Rahul KP’s first claim to fame was the U-17 World Cup hosted by the country in 2017. Following stints at the AIFF Elite Academy and the Indian Arrows, Kerala Blasters signed him in 2019. He scored his first-ever goal for the Yellow Army versus Hyderabad FC in ISL 2019-20, before earning a five-year extension to his contract.
In the recently concluded 2020-21 season, Rahul made 17 appearances for the team. He is already a fan-favourite among the masses, having scored twice in two matches against arch-rivals Bengaluru FC. The second of those goals came in injury-time in January 2021 and it resulted in an unforgettable win for his team.
Central Midfielder: Arjun Jayaraj
Although no longer a part of Kerala Blasters, Arjun Jayaraj’s ISL career is far from over. A lack of game-time forced him to terminate his contract with the Blasters in December. The former Gokulam Kerala star later signed for Kerala United and played for them in the Kerala Premier League (KPL) as well.
The 24-year-old midfielder is currently in the process of re-building his career. He has had multiple offers from ISL and I-League clubs in the past year and will definitely look to play in the two leagues soon. Age is also on the side of the former KPL champion, who is known for his ability to hold the ball and dictate the game from midfield.
Central Midfielder: Sahal Abdul Samad
In the past couple of years, Sahal Abdul Samad has grown to become the poster-boy of Kerala football. After making some early appearances for the KBFC Reserves team, he was able to impress his coaches and earn promotion to the senior side. The 2018-19 season was a turning point for the versatile attacker, as he was selected as the ‘Emerging Player of the Season’ in the ISL. He also won the AIFF’s ‘Emerging Player of the Year’ award in 2019.
However, the 2019-20 season turned out to be one of disappointment for Sahal, as he was largely reduced to appearances from the bench by then Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie. But, the Kannur-based player managed to turn things around to a good extent under Kibu Vicuna. In ISL 2020-21, he also showed that he can play as wide No.10, apart from an improved defensive skill-set. Contracted to the club till 2025, fans believe that he has much more to offer to the team in the years to come.
Left Midfielder: Ashique Kuruniyan
Ashique Kuruniyan playing at left-back for Bengaluru FC is a big loss for Indian football. The Malappuram-based player is one of India’s quickest and regularly clocks speeds of over 33 kph with the ball. After turning out as a left winger for Pune FC, FC Pune City and Spanish outfit Villarreal’s ‘C’ team, Carles Cuadrat oversaw his transition to a more defensive role at BFC. To-date, it is something that most fans of Kerala football are not pleased about, despite the lad continuing to impress for the Blues in the ISL.
In the Indian football team, Stimac continues to trust Kuruniyan as a winger. Apart from making 50 appearances so far in the ISL, the 23-year-old also has 12 India caps to his name. His only international goal so far came in a SAFF Championship game against Sri Lanka in May 2018.
Striker: CK Vineeth
One of the best strikers to hail from Kerala football in recent times, CK Vineeth has played for several teams in his career. After creating waves with his performances for Chirag United, Prayag United and Bengaluru FC in the ISL, Kerala Blasters handed him his ISL debut in 2015 by signing him on loan from the Blues. They made the move permanent ahead of the 2017-18 season and the following year he also had a loan stint at Chennaiyin FC.
In the last couple of seasons, Vineeth also played for Jamshedpur and East Bengal. Overall, he has clocked 60 ISL appearances, scoring 13 times apart from registering three assists. He has also played in seven matches for the Indian football team.
Striker: VP Suhair
Like Shereef, VP Suhair also had a fruitful ISL 2020-21 season at NorthEast United. He joined them after winning the I-League 2019-20 title with Mohun Bagan. The striker from Palakkad has previously played for Prayag United, Gokulam Kerala and East Bengal as well.
In ISL 2020-21, Suhair made 19 appearances and ended up registering three goals and an assist. He had decent defensive contributions as well, with 64 tackles, 21 interceptions, 12 clearances and 25 blocks – and this is despite the fact that he was a forward. The Highlanders signed him on a multi-year deal, which means that he will be a part of their side in the upcoming season as well.