The league concluded earlier this week, with Gokulam Kerala lifting the title for the second time in their history.

The Kerala Premier League (KPL) is one of the most popular state leagues in Indian football and it has been taking place consistently over the past few seasons. Infact, the recently concluded 2020-21 edition of the league was its seventh iteration.

Gokulam Kerala’s Reserves team lifted the title this time, after beating Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) in the final. KSEB opened the scoring through Viknesh in the second half, but the Malabarians came back into the match with goals from Nimshad and Ganeshan. This is their second KPL triumph to-date, having previously become champions in 2017-18.

The 2020-21 Kerala Premier League season witnessed a lot of wonderful individual performances from various players across different teams. Some of them are even good enough to play for I-League and Indian Super League (ISL) sides.

On that note, here’s Khel Now’s list of five players from KPL 2020-21 who we feel could play in the national leagues in the upcoming seasons.

5. Sreekuttan VS (Kerala Blasters Reserves)

ISL outfit Kerala Blasters’ Reserves team did not have an exceptionally great outing in the Kerala Premier League this season. The defending champions finished fourth in Group A and managed just two wins in five matches.

One of the few players that stoodout for the Yellow Army in terms of performances is Sreekuttan VS. The 22-year-old registered two goals and two assists in the competition. His best performance came in the match against Kovalam FC, where he scored once and played key roles in setting up two other goals. Kerala Blasters won the game 4-1 and raised hopes of qualifying to the knockouts, but a loss to KSEB in their final league stage game put an end to their run.

Courtesy of his performances, Sreekuttan can surely stake a claim for a longer contract at the Blasters. As the team themselves are short on attacking options, it would not be a bad idea for the team either. Signing him as a part of their senior team would be a wise move for the Kochi-based outfit, as he can then train with the team’s seniors or even go out on loan to an I-League club for more game-time.

It is worth remembering that the youngster was a part of the ARA FC side that played in the I-League Qualifiers last year – which means that he also has the experience of playing in a national-level competition. Playing for longer in the national circuits will help him develop even further, as he is not yet at the peak of his powers.

4. Arjun Jayaraj (Kerala United)

The name of Arjun Jayaraj is familiar not just in Kerala football circles but also for those outside the state. The midfielder rose to fame at Gokulam Kerala, with whom he won his maiden KPL title three years ago.

After featuring for the Malabarians in back-to-beak I-League seasons and a Super Cup, he joined Kerala Blasters on a multi-year deal. However, an injury marred his chances of making a debut in the ISL and finally, in December 2020, he parted ways with the club by mutual consent.

Shortly afterwards, he signed for Kerala United and led them in KPL 2020-21. In the league stage, KUFC lost just one match – and Arjun did not play for them in that game against KSEB. This is just an example that highlights his importance in the team. Along with another ex-KBFC star Hrishidhath, the 24-year-old formed a potent partnership in midfield, creating goalscoring chances and controlling the tempo of the game.

Arjun Jayaraj is currently one of the best midfielders from Kerala and if his performances in the competition are anything to go by, he could easily slot into most I-League teams and even some ISL sides.

3. Muhammed Uvais (KSEB)

KSEB’s progress in the Kerala Premier League surely took most fans by surprise. In the midst of teams like Kerala Blasters, Luca Soccer Club, Basco and others, not many expected the departmental side to reach the knockouts, let alone the final. One of the players that helped them defy odds was Muhammed Uvais.

The centre-back was brilliant for KSEB throughout their campaign, as they conceded just thrice in the league stage. His long forward balls were also a treat to watch and helped the team create many goalscoring chances.

He did slip-up once in the semi-final against Basco and almost cost them a spot in the final with an own-goal. However, KSEB held on, equalized and won on penalties, thereby booking a berth in the title-decider. Although his team had to surrender to Gokulam Kerala in the end, the 22-year-old won hearts with his overall performance.

Uvais is a left-footed centre-back, a not-so-frequent sight in Indian football. At 22 years of age, he is also fairly young and will do more good work, provided he gets chances in first-division clubs.

2. Ganeshan (Gokulam Kerala Reserves)

It was a collective effort of the whole Gokulam Kerala side that resulted in them winning the KPL for a second time in history. While individual performances mattered, the whole team was a strong, single unit that saw off their opponents one-by-one on their way to lifting the title.

Out of those individual performances, the work put in by Ganeshan stood out more than most. The 21-year-old scored thrice in the competition, including one of the two all-important goals in the final against KSEB.

He has been with the GKFC Reserves team for a while now and also almost made it into the I-League squad that travelled to Kolkata for the competition. While the attacker might have missed out on kissing the I-League trophy, he was able to make amends for it less than a month later by playing a key role in his side’s KPL triumph.

I-League or ISL sides could approach the talented youngster this summer. Even if he chooses to remain with the Kozhikode-based outfit, he could earn a callup to their senior team soon and hence, his days of playing in the top-flight may not be too far way.

1. Muhammed Parokkottil (KSEB)

We have already spoken enough about KSEB’s exploits in KPL 2020-21. Although they had to end their campaign as runners-up, they were by no means lesser than any other team in terms of mentality and fighting spirit.

While a few clubs took the freedom of signing foreigners to boost their squad, the departmental side could not do that. Despite such shortcomings, the lads from KSEB displayed plenty of verve en-route to the knockouts and then the final. One of the players who was a class apart in the team was Muhammed Parokkottil.

The 23-year-old did exceptionally well throughout the competition and notched three goals to show for it. His best performance came against Kerala United, when he scored a brace as they beat the Malappuram-based outfit 3-1.

A former Santhosh Trophy champion, Parokkottil’s exceptional pace, control and finishing skills put KSEB in the driver’s seat more often than not. It will hence not be a surprise if I-League or ISL clubs enquire for him in the coming summer, especially because of the general scarcity of forward options among domestic talents.

Honourable mentions

Shain Khan (KSEB), Hrishidhath (Kerala United), Nimshad Roshan (Gokulam Kerala Reserves).

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