Sahal, Rehenesh and the local heroes of Kerala Blasters
Kerala has been a hotbed for talent in Indian football over the years and after the emergence Kerala Blasters FC in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), the state has seen the popularity of the sport go from strength to strength. Through the decades, many players like IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, CK Vineeth and Anas Edathodika have come from the state and gone on to star for the Blue Tigers
Last season, Kerala had a strong core of players from the state who went on to establish themselves as important members after injuries to key players in the team. On the special occasion of Oman, we have a look at some of the Kerala players that have found their way to the Blasters, who have nurtured their talent over the last few seasons.
Among the most experienced goalkeepers in the Hero ISL, TP Rehenesh has played in every season of the league since its inception back in 2014. Having begun his Hero ISL career with NorthEast United FC, he spent five seasons at the club, keeping 13 clean sheets in 49. The 2015 Hero ISL season was his most successful as he kept four clean sheets and also made 47 saves, which was the most by any goalkeeper that season.
After losing his place to Pawan Kumar in the 2018-19 season when the Highlanders reached the playoffs for the first time, he made the move back home and was a regular for Kerala Blasters in the 2019-20 Hero ISL season. Rehenesh made 13 appearances and kept two clean sheets last season. During his time in the Hero ISL, Rehenesh has made 167 saves combined for both the clubs he has represented in the league.
A breakthrough player from the 2019-20 season, defender Abdul Hakku was an integral part of his team’s defence last season. After making his Hero ISL debut in the 2017-18 campaign with the Highlanders, Hakku moved to the club of his home state and has been there ever since.
Following just two appearances in the 2018-19 season for Kerala, the centre-back from Malappuram became an important member of former head coach Eelco Schattorie’s Blasters toward the latter stage of last season. He played five matches for his side, and made 51 clearances, 12 tackles, five interceptions and three blocks while commanding an impressive passing accuracy of 83.33 as well. He recently signed a three-year contract extension with the club and will be looking to kick on in the years to come.
Sahal Abdul Samad
One of the most highly rated players from India, Sahal Abdul Samad is a firm fan-favourite and is tipped to help Kerala achieve lots of success in the future having been a part of the Blasters’ first-team setup for the last two seasons. He joined the reserves for Kerala in 2017 before being drafted into the first team ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Sahal established himself as a key component of the Kochi-based outfit in the 2018-19 season, winning the Hero ISL Emerging Player of the League trophy that season. However, he was unable to keep a permanent spot in the first-team under Schattorie last campaign. Still only 23, Sahal is also already a part of India’s senior team as well, and recently signed a three-year extension to his contract, keeping him at the club till 2025.
Rahul KP is another young and budding talent who made his name in Indian football after performing for the U-17 team in the 2017 FIFA World Cup hosted by India. After a solid start to his professional career with Indian Arrows in the Hero I-League, he was snapped up by Kerala Blasters.
The versatile forward made eight appearances for Kerala Blasters last season before his campaign was curtailed due to an injury. He also managed to score one goal. At 20, Rahul is a star for the future and his new head coach Kibu Vicuna is hoping to get the best out of him. “I expect a lot from Rahul. He is a very fast player and is very versatile,” Vicuna said in an interview after joining Kerala.