The reform introduced to slash the foreign quota in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) called for major changes in the way a team operates, especially the representation of overseas players in particular positions. As expected, the franchises had to do away with the luxury of deputing two central defenders, as the void had to be filled with a local talent.

While many teams have felt the hardships of the tweak, some have turned it into their advantage. Kerala Blasters FC, for instance, have outlined the perfect blueprint to guard their castle, with a certain youngster - Ruivah Hormipam, being the most vital piece in the puzzle.

The footballers’ breakthrough moment was with the Minerva Punjab youth team, as he was part of their Hero Elite League winning team in 2018-19. After two years of trade in the I-League with the Indian Arrows and Minerva Punjab, the stopper was roped in by Kerala Blasters FC in 2021 on a three-year deal.

Hormipam was finally handed a start in the Blasters’ crucial tie against Mumbai City FC, which they won 3-0. Five tackles, eight clearances, five interceptions (100% accuracy) was enough to retain his berth for the next contest.

Since then, there has been no looking back for the Hormipam. Head coach Ivan Vukomanovic has shuffled Enes Sipovic and Marko Leskovic in between games, with Hormipam as the constant. And the center-back has not disappointed so far in the Hero ISL 2021-22.

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He has gone on to play six more matches for Kerala Blasters this season, during which the team has conceded just one goal from open play - a late goal from NorthEast United FC in the previous game.

Joining late into the party, the defender has already leapfrogged the season campaigners in numbers. In seven matches, Hormipam has made 23 clearances, the second most by a player after Jeakson Singh (33 in 13 matches). Hormipam has the highest interception rate for any player in the squad (minimum 180 minutes), which reads 3.28 per 90 minutes.

Before the NorthEast United FC game, the India U23 international had registered 43 clearances -- second most by a Blasters player. Not surprisingly, he has the highest rate of clearance among his teammates -- 7.2 per 90 minutes.

In fact, the team has conceded just two goals when Hormipam was on the pitch. It has had a direct impact on the results. Kerala Blasters FC have conceded the least number of goals (12) this season and sit at the second position in the league table, with 23 points from 13 matches. For the records, the team shipped in 36 goals in the previous edition of the Hero ISL.

The Ivan Vukomanovic coached side is on the brink of qualifying for the play-offs for the first time since 2016. Brighter days have finally arrived for the passionate Kerala Blasters FC fans and simultaneously, a star is born - not only for the Yellow Army, but also the Blue Tigers.