Fresh signings galore: A look into the Blasters' major squad overhaul
Kerala Blasters FC endured some difficult times in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season under Kibu Vicuña, which saw them record 3 wins, 8 draws and 9 losses in the process. The club finished in 10th position with 17 points in their bag. The Blasters have opted for a major overhaul of its squad for the upcoming Hero ISL season, releasing several big names in the process. Ivan Vukomanović has been brought in to replace head coach Vicuña for the 2021-22 campaign, and the Serbian who has previously been at the helm for Belgian side Standard Liège, and Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava, shall look to improve on last season’s performance.
Here’s a look at the Blasters’ transfer activity in the summer transfer window:
- Adrián Luna
Adrián Luna has signed for Kerala Blasters FC from A-League champions Melbourne City. The creative midfielder started his senior career at Defensor Sporting in Uruguay, and later played in Spain and Mexico until his switch to Melbourne in 2019. The Uruguayan was a vital cog in Patrick Kisnorbo’s side in the A-League 2020-21 season, scoring 3 goals, and assisting 4. With his excellent playmaking abilities, Luna will be the creative hub in the Blasters’ lineup,
- Enes Sipović
Enes Sipović has moved to Kerala Blasters from Chennaiyin F.C. The central defender spent his youth career at Željezničar in Sarajevo and had subsequent spells in Romania, Belgium, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, before arriving in India in 2020. He was a towering figure in the Marina Machans’ lineup, clocking in 79 clearances and 49 tackles in the 2020-21 season. He will be a great asset for the Vukomanović-led side, as they look to leak fewer goals in the domestic season.
- Jorge Pereyra Díaz
The Blasters have signed Jorge Pereyra Díaz on loan from Club Atlético Platense to add more firepower to their attack. He kicked off his career with Argentine club Ferro Carril Oeste in 2008, and has featured for several clubs in South America. He spent 3 years with Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim F.C. The Argentine has a tendency to drop deep and turn provider, which can help him complement his strike partners throughout the course of the season.
- Álvaro Vázquez
Vukomanović’s side have acquired Spanish striker Álvaro Vázquez from Spanish side Sporting de Gijón. An RCD Espanyol academy product, he has spent a majority of his career in the top two divisions of Spain, while also having played in the Premier League with Swansea City. The striker will be a threat in the opposition box, with his impressive off-the-ball movement being a constant worry for his opponents.
- Chencho Gyeltshen
Chencho Gyeltshen has joined the club from RoundGlass Punjab FC. In 2015, he was signed by Thai club Surin City, making him the first player from Bhutan to play for a foreign side. He had subsequent spells with Thimphu F.C, Terton F.C, Chittagong Abahani, Minerva Punjab FC, Bengaluru FC and Neroca FC. He enjoyed a fairly successful 2020-21 season, bagging 7 goals for Roundglass Punjab, as they finished 4th in the I-league. In his only previous spell in the Hero ISL, the Bhutanese scored 2 goals in 9 appearances for Bengaluru FC.
- Marko Lešković
The Blasters have roped in center-back Marko Lešković from Dinamo Zagreb for the upcoming Hero ISL season. A three-time Croatian League champion, Lešković has played over 150 games in the Croatian top division and has also been capped by the Croatian national team. His journey started at NK Osijek in 2010, after which he featured for HNK Rijeka, Dinamo Zagreb and NK Lokomotiva. The 30-year-old will reinforce a Kerala backline that looked vulnerable in the 2020-21 season.
- Harmanjot Khabra
Kerala Blasters FC have added experience to their ranks with the signing of Harmanjot Khabra. A Tata Football Academy graduate, Khabra has featured for Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League. He also has experience of playing for Sporting Clube de Goa and East Bengal in the I-League. The two time Hero ISL winner is comfortable with operating on either flank or in midfield and his versatility and leadership shall be an added bonus for Kerala.
- Sanjeev Stalin
The left-back has arrived from Portuguese side Aves, and spent the previous season on loan at Sertanense in the Portuguese fourth tier. He featured in the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup campaign for India and provided the assist for Jeakson Singh’s historic header against Colombia. He represented the Indian Arrows 28 times in the I-League until 2019, before moving to Portugal. An exceptional set-piece taker, the youngster can provide competition to Jessel Carneiro in the left-back position.
- Hormipam Ruivah
The Yellow Army has signed a future prospect in Hormipam Ruivah from Roundglass Punjab FC. The central defender was a part of the Minerva Punjab academy and enjoyed an impressive loan spell with the Indian Arrows in the 2019-20 I-League season. He followed it up with an equally successful campaign with Roundglass Punjab in the 2020-21 I-League. Ruivah has also been a part of the Indian U18 and U23 setups.
- Vincy Barretto
The 21-year-old Goan forward has joined the Blasters from Gokulam Kerala FC. Barretto spent his formative years at the Dempo SC Academy, before signing for the FC Goa reserves in 2017. The Malabarians secured the youngster’s services for the 2020-21 season, and he made 13 appearances for the outfit as they lifted the I-League title. The pacy winger has arrived in the Hero ISL brimming with potential, and he could be an impactful addition to his side.
- Vicente Gomez
Vicente Gomez was one of the most important players for Kerala Blasters in the 2020-21 season. He was the first name on the team sheet, working incredibly hard in the center of the pitch. He made 19 appearances, scoring twice and assisting once, while also stringing 934 passes and making 81 tackles. The 33-year-old has represented Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna in Spain and is currently contracted to Greek side Xanthi F.C.
- Gary Hooper
The Englishman was the star signing for the Blasters ahead of the 2020-21 season. He scored 5 goals and assisted 4 for the Yellow Army last season, striking up a valuable partnership with Jordan Murray. Hooper is known for his time at Celtic, where he scored more than 60 goals in his 3-year stay. The forward later moved to England, featuring for Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday, and is currently playing for A-League side Wellington Phoenix.
- Jordan Murray
Murray has moved to Hero ISL side Jamshedpur FC for the 2021-22 season. The Aussie striker was initially restricted to appearances off the bench, but he began featuring in the starting lineup regularly after Matchweek 7, and took the league by storm in his initial starts, scoring four times in as many appearances. He had a successful season, scoring 7 goals and bagging 1 assist, and his predatory instincts in front of goal can be a miss for Vukomanović.
- Facundo Pereyra
The 34-year-old has joined Estudiantes (BA) in the second tier of Argentinian football, after being released by Kerala Blasters. Pereyra made 12 appearances for the Blasters in the 2020-21 season, bagging 3 assists. The versatile playmaker had the potential to operate in multiple offensive roles, which was an asset for Vicuna last season.
- Bakary Koné
The towering center-back from Burkina Faso made 14 appearances for Kerala Blasters in 2020-21, making 29 tackles, 38 clearances, and 16 blocks. He has primarily featured in French football, playing for Guingamp and Lyon over the course of a decade. As part of a major squad overhaul, the club has released the imposing defender ahead of the 2021-22 season.
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- Costa Nhamoinesu
Costa Nhamoinesu has signed for Podbeskidzie Bielsko-Biała, who play in the second tier of Polish football. He was acquired by the Blasters to shore things up at the back in the summer transfer window of the 2020-21 season. The Zimbabwean scored 2 goals, registered 26 tackles, 77 clearances, and 19 blocks in the Hero ISL last season. Before his Indian adventure, Costa was with Czech club Sparta Prague from 2013 to 2020.
The Spaniard joined the Yellow Army to replace the injured Sergio Cidoncha in December 2020. He made 10 appearances, making 34 tackles, 9 blocks, and had a pass completion rate of 80%. The midfielder has come through the youth ranks of Real Betis and represented them in the La Liga and UEFA Champions League. He has had stints in Belgium, Italy, and most recently, in Australia.
- Nongdamba Naorem
Nongdamba Naorem has completed a move to FC Goa ahead of the upcoming season. He was initially noticed through his performances at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, and later in his time at Mohun Bagan in the I-League in 2019-20, where he scored twice and secured 5 assists. An injury restricted his playing time in the Hero ISL 2020-21 season, appearing only thrice for the Blasters.
The full-back was an integral part of the I-League winning campaign for Aizawl F.C. in 2016-17. After joining the Hero ISL, he continued his impressive run with the Kerala Blasters FC and was named the Emerging Player of the Season, with 85 tackles and 49 clearances to his name in 17 games. Opportunities dwindled in the following seasons for the defender, which resulted in a move to Hero ISL side Odisha FC in the summer transfer window.
- Rohit Kumar
Bengaluru FC acquired the 24-year-old midfielder in a deal that runs till the end of the 2022-23 season from the Blasters. After spending his developmental years at DSK Shivajians, Kumar joined FC Pune City in 2017. He was a part of the Stallions’ squad for 2 seasons and was a part of the Hyderabad FC setup in 2019-20. Kumar was restricted to 11 appearances in 2020-21.
- Bilal Khan
Bilal Khan has mutually terminated his contract with the Blasters. The custodian made 5 appearances for Kerala in the Indian Super League in 2019-20 and spent the 2020-21 season playing second fiddle to Albino Gomes.
- Subha Ghosh
SC East Bengal has signed Subha Ghosh on loan for the 2021-22 season. The tall forward is a product of the Mohun Bagan academy, making his senior debut for the same club in the 2019-20 I-League season. He joined Kerala Blasters in the 2020-21 season. He’ll be looking to create headlines and have a breakthrough season with the Red and Gold Brigade.
- Naorem Mahesh Singh
Accompanying Subha Ghosh in the switch to East Bengal is Naorem Mahesh Singh. Having come through the Shillong Lajong youth system, the Blasters signed him for their reserve team in the 2019-20 season, after observing his impressive performances for Shillong in the 2018-19 season, where he bagged 4 goals and provided 3 assists.
- Ritwik Das
Jamshedpur FC have signed winger Ritwik Das ahead of the 2021-22 season. He spent his formative years at the Mohun Bagan academy, and was noticed after his performances in the I-League with Real Kashmir. The 24-year-old made 4 appearances for the Blasters last season.
- Shaiborlang Kharpan
After being loaned out to Sudeva Delhi in the 2020-21 season, the forward has been acquired by the I-League club on a permanent basis ahead of the upcoming season. The striker from Meghalaya was a part of the Shillong Lajong youth setup and later represented their senior team, too. He enjoyed a successful loan spell at Ozone FC in 2019.
Kerala Blasters have been one of the most active entities in the summer transfer window. There have been numerous acquisitions and departures, giving the club a new look for the 2021-22 season. It would be exciting to see how Vukomanović sets up his troops, as they look to have a successful campaign for the eighth edition of the Hero ISL.