Blend of youth and experience to steer Kerala Blasters’ title aspirations
If there is one team in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) that has been constantly haunted by a series of ‘if onlys’ and ‘what ifs’, it has been Kerala Blasters FC. Whether one puts it down to plain bad luck or some misfortunes at crucial junctures, the Kochi-based football club could themselves have been two-time champions by now.
With the biggest fanbase by far in the country, the men in yellow have been finalists twice over the three editions of the league, and on both occasions, they were denied the ultimate glory by Atlético de Kolkata. If a late goal from a corner in the first season sealed their fate in a final they dominated for the most part, the fact that they went down in the penalty shoot-out in the 2016 final – that too in front of their 50,000 plus spectators – was nothing short of agonising. Not to mention the fact that they had the advantage twice in that match, once when they were leading through the night, and another time when they were ahead during the shoot-out.
There is no reason not to consider the Blasters as serious title contenders for the upcoming season. Their ever-increasing fanbase is always rallying behind them, and one of the most popular faces, not only in Kochi but also in the league, is back donning the yellow jersey. For sure, Iain Hume played a huge role in Kerala’s run in the opening season, and although he swapped Kochi colours for the red-and-white of Kolkata for the next couple of seasons, he has always been revered highly in the Blasters’ den. His return will be a defining factor in his team’s quest for glory.
Joining them as assistant coach this season is the former head coach of Hero I-League club Shillong Lajong, Thangboi Singto. He will also take up the role of technical director of their youth development programme.
The 43-year-old has been to Kerala before when he was working in the I-League and during the Federation Cup; he is very focused on the future goals for the team, seeing that, as he pointed out, he is here for ‘long term’.
“Kerala has a great history of football and I think after the ISL came, Kerala Blasters are bringing the glory back. There were a lot of great players before and there are great players now; and we are here again to get new heroes, and new stars for Kerala,” he explained in an interview on Kerala Blasters’ Facebook page.
Singto reckons that the draft for the fourth edition of the league went well for the Blasters, seeing that there is a healthy mix of senior players, who regularly ply their trade for the Indian national team, and some of the most promising and talented youth that the team also needs.
Apart from the renowned local players like CK Vineeth and Rino Anto, Singto sees a lot of potential in youngster Ajith Sivan, a player who caught their eyes with his stellar performances in the inaugural Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) competition.
“Ajith is a young talent who was unearthed by the Reliance Foundation. I think he’s on the right track. He has the potential but as the days go on, training with better players and with the seniors in the team is going to improve him. Hopefully, very soon, he will be one of the stars like CK Vineeth is at the moment,” he said.Singto was also quick to point out the relevance of the grassroots initiative taken up by Kerala Blasters.
“The plan was to always develop football from the grassroots level. The plan was always there, but the execution started this season. On a larger, bigger and better scale, we have started with the football schools and have different centres all over Kerala. This is an opportunity for all the young boys and girls who want to become players. Also, we have started with the youth team, the Under-15, Under-18 as per the criteria of the AIFF and they will be taking part in the youth league very soon. The future is bright,” he concluded.