With a focus on grooming young talent, the Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters FC are a club that takes pride in its approach of nurturing players from the youth academy and gradually integrating them into their first team.

Despite their quest for silverware in the league remaining unfulfilled, the club has carved a niche for itself in player development. Notable examples include Sahal Abdul Samad and Rahul KP, shining stars who rose through the ranks to become key players for the Blasters.

The 2023-24 campaign proved to be a test of resilience for the Blasters. While they commenced with vigour, a slew of injuries hampered their progress, relegating them from the top spot in the league stage's second phase. Nonetheless, under the astute guidance of head coach Ivan Vukomanovic, the team persevered, clinching a playoff berth for the third consecutive season. This feat was largely indebted to the emergence of academy prospects Mohammed Azhar and Mohammed Aimen, whose invaluable contributions steadied the ship amidst adversity.

Azhar and Aimen emerged as shining stars from the Kerala Blasters FC’s youth academy, earning promotion to Kerala Blasters FC’s ISL squad ahead of the 2023-24 season. Hailing from the Lakshadweep, the twin talents eventually began their journey with the club's U-15 setup. 

Their quality was showcased in various tournaments including the Kerala Premier League, the Reliance Foundation Development League, and the Next Gen Cup. In a pivotal moment for their development, the duo embarked on a transformative three-week training stint with Polish outfit Rakow Czestochowa in 2022, further honing their skills.

Grabbing their chances 

Azhar and Aimen made quite an impression for Kerala Blasters FC during their Durand Cup campaign, despite the team's early exit from the group stages. While Azhar's contributions in terms of goals were absent in the two matches he featured in, Aimen showcased his prowess by notching two goals and an assist in three appearances.

Their performances earned them spots in Kerala Blasters FC's ISL squad for the first time. Azhar seized his opportunity by making his debut start for the club in December, filling in admirably for the injured Adrian Luna in midfield against Punjab FC. Subsequent injuries, particularly to Vibin Mohanan, ensured Azhar retained his place in the starting lineup until Jeakson Singh's return from injury.

Although Azhar couldn't maintain a consistent starting role during the crucial phase of the league, he showcased his versatility by adapting as a full-back in the latter stages, accumulating a total of 16 appearances and 782 minutes on the field.

Meanwhile, Aimen, deployed in an advanced role, flourished under Vukomanovic's attacking philosophy, capitalising on Rahul KP's initial absence due to injury. Despite a slow start, Aimen gained confidence as the season progressed, displaying adaptability both as a winger and as a central midfielder.

In the latter part of the season, Vukomanovic even experimented with Aimen as a forward, a move that paid dividends. Aimen's standout performance came against Hyderabad FC in Kerala Blasters FC's final league fixture, where he not only netted his first league goal but also provided an assist in an impressive 3-1 victory.

Aimen's versatility was further highlighted in the one-legged playoff encounter against Odisha FC, where he featured as a forward and set up a goal for Fedor Cernych. Despite his efforts, Kerala Blasters FC suffered a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in extra time, bringing an end to their season. 

Closing the season with over 1100 minutes on the pitch, Aimen's tally included one goal and two assists, all of which came in his final two appearances as a forward, showcasing his growing influence.

“They have to pass through that period of youth and then come into the first eleven growing up. They have qualities to play in the ISL. So whenever we can, we are giving them that playing time. Sometimes in different positions because we want them to grow up faster and like that they will become better. It’s our asset,” Vukomanovic said after their last league game of the season while discussing the progression of their youth players in the first team. 

The evident progress of the Aimen brothers, in line with Kerala Blasters FC's ethos of promoting youth academy talents to the senior squad, serves as a compelling reminder that the club is making significant strides forward.