Kerala Blasters come into the third season of the Indian Super League on the back of a disappointing second season where they finished rock bottom winning just 3 out of 14 preliminary games. It was speculated that the change of approach was one of the main reasons for the club’s failure in second season. Blasters transitioned from being a team focused on collective effort in the first season to a one or two-man team in the second season. A new season dawns upon the franchise co-owned by cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar with the appointment of Manchester United legend Steve Coppell as the new Blasters manager and along with a number of new signings, the club would aim to bring back the tenacity from the first season of the enterprising league.
Goalkeepers : Mohammad Ansari, Sandip Nandy, Kunal Sawant, Graham Stack [Ireland]
Blasters have signed former Arsenal goalkeeper Graham Stack for the current season after the 35-year-old chose to walk away from English club Barnet at the end of the 2015-16 as his contract expired despite being offered a new deal by the club. The club also sees the return of Sandip Nandy back on the roster after the 41-year-old left for Mumbai City F.C. last season. Mohammad Ansari comes into the squad from Pune F.C. and would be eager to impress the coaches in the pre-season to grab a more prominent role in the squad while Kunal Sawant completes the goalkeeping roster for the first season runners-up.
Defenders : Rino Anto, Pratik Chaudhari, Gurwinder Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Cedric Hengbart [France], Elhadji Ndoye [Senegal], Didier Kadio [Ivory Coast]. Aaron Hughes [Northern Ireland]
Aaron Hughes is Kerala Blasters’ marquee player for the upcoming season of the Indian Super League and the 37-year-old’s experience at the back could be crucial in the resurgence of the club. The Northern Ireland international has played at the top level of English football for many years with clubs like Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham and was last seen plying his trade for A-League side Melbournce City. Cedric Hengbart and Elhadji Ndoye arrive at the club with the former having previous experience of Indian football as he featured for North-East United last season while the latter comes to India as a talented 24-year-old Senegalese who failed to make a mark in European football despite being highly rated as a teenager. 26-year-old Didier Kadio can play as a defender and in the midfield and the Ivory Coast player could come in handy in the wake of injuries.
Pratik Chaudhari joins the club with the reputation of being a versatile talent. The 26-year-old is capable of playing as a defender as well as a defensive-minded midfielder and could come in handy for squad rotation during the season. Rino Anto arrives after a successful spell with Atletico De Kolkata last season where in he featured regularly as the first-season champions lost in the semi-finals while fellow defender Gurwinder Singh rejoins the Blasters for the third season in a row. Sandesh Jhingan is undoubtedly the star of the Indian contingent of the Blasters defence. The 23-year-old was a key player for the club in the first season as he was showered with praise along with being named as the Emerging Player of the Season by both Indian Super League and AIFF. The versatile defender lost his way a bit in the second season and would look to re-establish his self as one of the best up and coming players in the country.
Midfielders : Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehtab Hossain, Mohammed Rafique, Vinit Rai, C.K. Vineeth, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Josu [Spain] , Azrack Mahamat [Chad]
Josu returns to the club after a short stint in the United States with the Hammerheads and the former Barcelona man sees the arrival of Azrack Mahamat at the club, a player who also played for the Catalan region, albeit for Espanyol. Blasters are graced with the presence of Bengal veteran Mehtab Hossain, who happens to be one of the most decorated players to come from the region. Ishfaq Ahmed returns to the side after playing a major part in the club’s final run in the first season and the 33-year-old winger would hope to provide a similar contribution.
The trio of C.K. Vineeth, Mohammed Rafique and Vinit Rai arrive at the club with Rafique the most prominent of the three as it was his goal that sunk Blasters in the final of the inaugural season handing Atletico De Kolkata the win. C.K. Vineeth is an experienced winger who has been a key part of the hugely successful Bengaluru F.C. squad in the I-League while Vinit Rai comes as an unknown but highly touted talent. The 18-year-old central midfielder was taken in by Dempo after graduating from the Tata Football Academy and is regarded as one for the future by the coaches. Prasanth is a midfielder who can also act as a make-shift forward and is also a largely unknown quantity going into the third season of the Indian Super League.
Forwards : Thongkosiem Haokip, Mohammed Rafi, Farukh Choudhary, Kervens Belfort [Haiti], Duckens Nazon [Haiti], Antonio German [England], Michael Chopra [England]
Haiti duo Belfort and Nazon arrive at the club having mostly played their football in France and the duo add pace and aggression to the Blasters attack. England duo Antonio German and Michael Chopra have both had previous stints at Kerala Blasters and even though Michael is a more known quantity, it is Antonio who has produced better displays and significantly better returns than the veteran.
But, it is the Indian forward Haokip that excites the Kerala fans the most. The 23-year-old is one of only two players to ever score a hat-trick in the Indian Super League and his addition to the Blasters roster shall provide some teeth to the attack. Home-boy Mohammed Rafi retains his place in the squad from last season. Haokip, though, is not the only exciting youngster to feature in the Blasters attacking roster with the club retaining the services of Pune FC academy product Farukh Chaudhary, the teenager who scored four past the Mohun Bagan colts, the Bengal side’s U-19 side, in the IFA Shield last year.
Manager : Steve Coppell
Graham Stack will be crucial for the team and should be Coppell’s automatic choice for the spot between the posts while the experienced duo of Aaron Hughes and Cedric Hengbart are likely to be the centre-back pairing. The Indian duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Rino Anto are likely to claim the spot on either side of the experienced pair. One would hope Coppell would give a chance to Vinit Rai to impress the crowd while pairing the 18-year-old with the calming presence of Mehtab Hossain. Meanwhile, The Hard Tackle feels Blasters would continue to put faith in the young Indian contingent by giving game time to both Haokip and Farukh up-front with Haokip the more preferred choice. The manager Steve Coppell is likely to be the main difference-maker for the club this season and if he settles in well at the club, the former Manchester United player could return Kerala Blasters to their glorious first-season exploits or even better that mark.