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How will the goalkeeping shift impact ATK and Kerala Blasters next season?

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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Both outfits had disappointing domestic campaigns, and are working to reinforce their squad before the upcoming season.

How times have changed for ATK and Kerala Blasters. It wasn’t actually too long ago when they were headlining Indian Super League (ISL) finals and considered among the league’s best. Now they struggle reaching the playoffs spot. No longer are they the giants' everyone feared in the league.

The changing ISL climate has sunk both the clubs’ dominance. The harsh times have been invited due to certain internal as well as external problems for both. The inability to create commendable squads and too much tinkering from management has created a problematic environment. However, ATK and Kerala Blasters have realized their mistakes and aiming to overhaul their whole system down from the roots.

By the roots means even the goalkeeping slot is going to undergo scrutiny. For ATK, Arindam Bhattacharya did a relatively decent job at stopping the onslaught from certain oppositions last season. However, he didn’t really win them many points and ended up conceding quite a few goals, especially away from home. While ATK's #1 still has the trust of management, the club still wants to reinforce that department to put some competition for him.

Incidentally, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem is the goalkeeper they’ve targeted for the summer. Sources have indicated to Khel Now the 18-year-old sensation is very close to moving to the Kolkata giants. Dheeraj would be perfect competition for Arindam’s spot next season and the long-term protector ATK can rely upon to keep the goalkeeping department safe over the next decade.

As Dheeraj closes on a move away from Kerala Blasters, one would think what about the Southern giants then? Well, Eelco Schattorie’s side have roped in I-League’s best goalkeeper last season in Bilal Khan. The former Real Kashmir goalkeeper was an unbreakable force in goal for the Snow Leopards, putting in excellent performances in which his stunning shot-stopping nature shone through.

Bilal kept 10 clean sheets in 19 games last season, putting in remarkable performances to catch everyone’s eyes. However, it was Kerala Blasters who recently managed to rope in the I-League 2018/19 season’s best goalkeeper and secured their goalkeeping slot for next season. Now that the former Kashmir goalkeeper’s joined up with the ISL side, Dheeraj is free to go wherever he wants.

Eelco Schattorie managed to work wonders on Pawan Kumar last season, with the agile goalkeeping having a prolific season with six clean-sheets in 16 appearances. He successfully managed to replace T.P Rehenesh and put in some wondrous performances thanks to Schattorie’s motivation. Similarly, Khan should also blend into the ISL perfectly thanks to the Dutch manager.

Arindam Bhattacharya was erratic for ATK throughout the season



With some experience defenders ahead of him, Bilal should slot into the Kerala team smoothly. The 24-year-old’s commanding nature can also be an influential factor for the defenders, who now have a goalkeeper to trust in saving their blushes. Dheeraj just wasn’t the experienced keeper the Yellow Brigade needed to flourish once again in the ISL.


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However, he’s still hot property in the transfer market. Multiple clubs want to sign him, including East Bengal, who wanted to fix their goalkeeping misery with the 18-year-old. Then again, it looks set that the youngster will join the Kolkata giants for a new experience. Dheeraj will have some experienced players guiding him with his development and Antonio Habas’ experienced presence will further improve his work in between the posts.

He’ll most likely be rotated with Arindam in the ISL, as ATK wouldn’t want to rush him into the team. However, Dheeraj’s inclusion could be the end of Debjit Majumder’s or Avilash Paul’s ATK career. The former might go onto move to Mohun Bagan, who are themselves craving for a better goalkeeper to compete with the erratic Shilton Paul.

ATK’s craving for youth have already been pinpointed in the way they’ve given opportunities to Komal Thatal. Moreover, Boris Singh is also expected to join next season and could play a part thanks to his excellent I-League campaign last time out. Like them, Dheeraj would be a future pillar for success in the eyes of the former ISL champions.

Arindam will need to massively pick up his game to keep out the young wonder from stealing his spotlight in goal. By keeping multiple clean-sheets last season, Dheeraj has already proven he’s more than ready for the ISL. In hindsight, Dheeraj’s departure from Kerala is actually beneficiary for both the clubs’ success next season.

The 18-year-old can be ATK’s poster boy going forward and Bilal Khan can fix the issues which the youngster was too inexperienced to do at Kerala Blasters. Different names could be seen in both sides’ starting XI next season and if fortune favours them, the two bright young keepers will help bring back the old glory very soon.

Published: Fri May 31, 2019 12:11 PM IST

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