From the inaugural season of ISL, KERALA BLASTER and the mammoth fan base played a pivotal role in the revival of Indian football. Though the southern state possessed its own share of pride in its once lost footballing culture. Football was regularly overshadowed by the limelight and glamour which cricket received. But, football was something malayalees could not live without.
ISL and the induction of Kerala Blaster acted as the trigger, to an explosion awaiting to happen. Love towards football hit the south western coast of India like an uncontrollable Tsunami. The waves it created was evident in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium for every game Kerala Blaster played. In fact, the ‘Waves’ created by fans were so high and powerful to reach the eastern shore till Chennai, even flooded the Sree Kanteerava stadium on the way.Club stepped up to the high expectation from fans in the inaugural season by signing experienced players in Indian football also balanced with the foreign signings. As a bonus, the young Indian squad intended for the longer run of the club proved out to be executed with perfection. Sandesh Jhingan, who was selected as the Emerging player of the ISL season 1 is a name we can’t miss.
As time progressed, Blasters had its own ups and downs. From the finalists and runner ups in the inaugural season, Blasters took a deep dive to the last place on the points table in the ISL season 2. Coach being sacked in mid of an already short season was a shocker for the fans from ISL 2. However, 3rd season of ISL showed the world what ‘KERALA’ in the name really means. Just like the fighting spirit and ‘NEVER SAY DIE’ attitude of the keralites, Team recovered from its past and reached the finals again just like a juggernaut. Once again to lose against ATK in the final. This time in a penalty shootout. Season 6 of ISL was not a successful season for KERALA BLASTER, but it was a season of REJUVENATION. A season of fighting back our own demons. Finally the fighting spirit of KERALA was back in the team. Kerala Blaster in season 6 was a team who were not ready to go down without a fight.
Injuries was a major concern for the Blasters in ISL 6. The list of injured players in the season almost matched the team strength. This forced the team to switch the game plan not once but throughout the tournament. Sandesh Jhingan’s name got added to the injury list even before the season started. We saw other key players registering their names to the list as the season progressed. Realizing that injuries cannot be humanly controlled, coach Eelco swiftly changed the gear and players stepped up every time a new challenge was thrown at them. With not being able to deploy his main team even once, Coach Eelco and the team did an exceptionally good job.
New style which Eelco successfully implemented was something which fans were waiting for. Young players stepping up to the challenge was a feast to watch. Raphaël Messi Bouli evolving to be the nuisance creator in opponent quarter and becoming a long-ball counter strike forward, Mohammad Rakip emerging as an expert marksman and effectively orchestrating the role of a right wing attack with Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Jessel Carneiro and Halicharan Narzary demonstrating the beauty of a left wing counter attacks, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam dominating as a DMF, Rehenesh TP stepping up to the role of a ‘SWEEPER KEEPER’ were few individual performances to mention. The offside trap on the 89th minute against ATK ( ATK won the ISL 6) and the famous 24 pass goal against FC GOA (FC GOA were the League champions) are classic examples of brilliance as a team. Realising that Kibu Vicuña, who is replacing Eelco for ISL 7 is also a coach who likes to play attacking football adds wings to the dreams of Blaster fans.
Fire power was something which Blaster always missed. ISL 6 saw something different. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphaël Messi Bouli became the most successful attacking pair Blaster ever deployed. Realising that the goal contribution from just season 6 alone got Ogbeche to the all-time leading goal scorer for the club shows the effectiveness of the attacking unit. Investment in prolific goal scorers ahead of ISL 7 shows that Kerala Blasters have understood the demand of the fire power in the attacking quarter. It’s a less known fact that the ‘all Indian’ reserve squad of KERALA BLASTER won the Kerala Premier League defeating GOKULAM Kerala FC ( i league Club ) soon after the end of ISL 6.
It’s said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” Now that 7th season of ISL is round the corner and looking back to the last season gives us a bigger picture. Season 6 was the first step towards INNOVATION, towards the success which KERALA BLASTER is going to achieve in near future.
Author : Ajith.P.Vasu, Bangalore