This wasn’t expected, at least not so soon. Two young European players, with great promise, strutting their stuff for a club in India. Cynicism be damned. That was precisely what helped Kerala Blasters beat NorthEast United 3-1 in their Indian Super League (ISL) 2015 opener at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi on Tuesday.
Ladies and gentlemen, get introduced to Jose Currios Prieto and Sanchez Watt. The former, better known as Josu, is a 22-year-old who has learned his tricks of the trade at Barcelona’s famed La Masia and the neighbouring, equally impressive academy run by Espanyol, the ‘other club’ of Catalonia, Spain.
Watt, a little older at 24, was once the great hope at Arsenal. But then he outdid even Maurice Edu in disappointing. The two, nevertheless, scored a couple of beautiful goals in Blasters first home match of the season.
The ISL was meant to be a tournament where former super stars of world football rub shoulders with young Indian talent. The outlier that India is in football made it seemingly impossible to bring top class talent from a Spain or Brazil at his prime to these shores.
The ISL has still not defied that, but nevertheless has brought some very good young talent from Europe and South America this season. The sheer number of players coming out of all those academies in those regions, and the cut-throat competition at the very top there have pushed many talented players to the periphery. A few of them are now in India.
India is not the first country to benefit from by providing a platform for those who are in search of it. China, and the West Asian countries such as Qatar and UAE have provided hope for plenty of South American talent, the kind who aren’t exactly a Xavi or Rooney, but good enough to deserve another chance. Blasters’ Josu and Watt are such. Josu has a sweet left foot.
On Tuesday, he showed plenty of that, with pin-point crosses and through balls. But the highlight was the terrific first time volley he hit in the 49th minute. Spain may not need him yet; but he is welcome to make himself at home in India in the mean time.
In the second half with Blasters already two goals up, head coach Peter Taylor introduced fellow Englishman Watt. He showed immediately why he was once rated highly. Fast, powerful and mazy. He combined all those traits in the 72nd minute for Blasters’ third goal. NorthEast United’s goalkeeper, TP Reheneesh of Kerala, could only fall on his backside.
Rafi makes it count
Between the two goals was a good header by Mohammed Rafi. Rafi was once Kerala’s great hope, the man to take over the mantle from IM Vijayan. The Kasargode-born player, however, found the expectations too heavy. At 33, he doesn’t have time on his side, but he did his best to make whatever is left of it count.
After all these goals, Nicolas Velez of NorthEast hit one back, as if to remind everyone of his presence here. Velez is one of those innumerable exports from Argentina. He is 25.
“I take full responsibility of the loss. The defensive errors are not players’ fault. It is my duty. We have practised it pre season. We will make amends and practice even more. I am responsible for the loss,” said NorthEast United’s head coach Cesar Farias after the match.
“I am very glad Rafi scored. He is a local lad. It was very important to him. He could have scored one before top. In the first half, had he put the ball in the empty net [a mis-hit volley of a rebound]. But I am glad he scored,” said Taylor after the match.