The Blasters have had a strange existence in the ISL.
The club have some of the most passionate football fans in the country who fill their home stadium more than supporters from any other franchise in the league. A recent report put them at 69thon the global list of most followed clubs on social media, the only Indian club in the Top 100. Yet, most Kerala fans could reasonably claim to have been underwhelmed by the quality of football played by their team in all four seasons.
The team has not returned a positive goal difference in any of its campaigns and even during its ‘successful’ seasons in 2014 and 2016, they scored a mind numbing 9 and 13 goals respectively in the 14-game regular season. In 60 league table engagements since the ISL began, Kerala have scored one or less goals in a match on 41 occasions. It is fitting in some ways that their appearances in two finals have ended in 0-1 and 1-1(3-4) losses.
There has definitely been a drop in stadium attendances, as reflected in last season’s average home league attendance of 31,763. Some of the drop from the heady heights of 50,000 from previous seasons can be attributed to the reduced seating capacity of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, but the results have definitely played a part.
The Spanish influence pervading through the rest of the league has not reached Keralite shores yet, and the management had placed their trust in various British managers for the first three years. The arrival of Dutchman, Rene Meulensteen, last year signified a departure from that trend and it was hoped that he would be able to replicate a playing style reminiscent of the Manchester United sides he had been first-team coach of for so long. He probably needed more time than the seven games he got. After a poor start to the season, he was relieved of his duties and David James was brought in to steady the ship.
The team was defensively sound with Sandesh Jhingan, Wes Brown and Nemanja Lekic-Pesic dictating proceedings at the back. It was in midfield and forward areas that Kerala looked disjointed. They tried multiple formations through the season but struggled to create and link up play. The team averaged 10.4 goal attempts with 3.1 shots on target, the lowest in the league on both parameters. They also had the fewest key passes and assists while producing the least saves from an opposition goalkeeper.
Dimitar Berbatov had some unflattering things to say about David James’ tactics and while the mercurial Bulgarian could have been part of the problem himself, the Englishman has yet to demonstrate great acumen as a coach. It was a surprise when he was given a new long-term contract at the end of the season.
Anas Edathodika comes into the squad this year and joins his national team partner, Jhingan, in central defence. The problems for Kerala are elsewhere though. A state renowned for appreciating attractive football deserves a team in that mould. It is about time the Blasters deliver.
Last season’s finish: Sixth
FlyingGoalie Prediction For This Season: Sixth