Kerala Blasters Preview – 2019-20 Indian Super League Season

The last time a Dutchman was in charge of the Blasters, he found himself without a job seven games into the season. That was all the time René Meulensteen got at a club that has had a strange fixation with British managers while the rest of the league looked at more continental influences. 

Eelco Schattorie will be hoping that he has more time than his fellow-countryman in turning around the fortunes of a franchise that should be doing a lot better than they have. He made a huge impact at NorthEast United last season, leading the Highlanders into the playoffs for the first time in their history. After famously claiming that Ferraris could not be created out of Mini Coopers, he got every ounce out of a depleted squad and even got them playing attractive football in the process. 

The budget has not been a constraint this season at Kerala and they have raided other clubs for talent. Bartholomew Ogbeche, who found the net with unerring regularity last season, follows his manager to the southern coast. Sergio Cidoncha and Mario Arqués have arrived from Jamshedpur as has Gianni Zuiverloon from erstwhile Delhi Dynamos. Not much is known about Moustapha Gning, but the Senegalese should replace Nikola Krcmarevic in the holding role. Jairo Rodrigues and Raphaël Messi Bouli complete the foreign lineup with the Blasters choosing to get rid of all the previous incumbents. 

It represents a fresh start for a team that has under-whelmed with their displays throughout their existence, despite making two finals. They have scored one goal or less in 55 out of the 78 matches they have played. Even worse, they have struggled to create even a semblance of an identity under their managers. Last season, the fans had enough and voted with their feet. With attendances at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium falling in any case, a lot of supporters stayed away from matches demanding more entertaining football. 

The club have finally woken upto the fact that their loyalty should not be taken for granted and the appointment of Schattorie is a step in the right direction. His plans have been dealt a huge blow with the injury to Sandesh Jhingan, ironically while playing for India in a warm-up game against NorthEast United. Raju Gaikwad has been added to squad as a replacement but the big centre-back will be sorely missed. 

The back-line had been in trouble already with injuries to Zuiverloon and Rodrigues and it remains to be seen if Schattorie has two fit centre-backs for the first game against ATK. Cidoncha and Arqués are on the treatment table as well and it has been a nightmare pre-season for the club, with their planned trip to the UAE getting cancelled at short notice. 

Amongst the domestic players, Sahal Abdul Samad stands out. His performances for the club last season earned him a place in the national team and he has not disappointed in India colours. The onus is on him to take the next step though and justify the hype surrounding him at the moment.  After an impressive first season, Lalruatthara has not pushed on sufficiently at left-back and neither has Mohammad Rakip on the other flank. Given the injuries in the squad, this could be an opportunity for the young Indian players to stand up and be counted. 

At the end of the day, Schattorie will be judged by results but if Kerala play fluid attractive football this season, he will find the Manjappada rallying behind his team. The crowds will throng the stadium again and he will get the time that he needs to build something that lasts. 

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