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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Indian Super League 2017-18: Kerala Blasters look to become third time lucky

Kerala Blasters F.C. will aim to shed their status of always being the bridesmaid in the 2017/18 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) and finally win the title that has twice escaped them

indian-super-league-2017 Updated: Nov 15, 2017 16:59 IST
Shayne Dias
Shayne Dias
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kerala Blasters F.C. have assembled a strong side and will look to win the Indian Super League (ISL) this year.
Kerala Blasters F.C. have assembled a strong side and will look to win the Indian Super League (ISL) this year. (Twitter: @KeralaBlasters)

Kerala Blasters F.C. have the most loyal fanbase among all Indian Super League (ISL) teams, even averaging over 55,000 fans per game during the 2015/16 season. Kochi is a football-mad city, and the passion of the fans clearly shines through every time the Blasters take to the field at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Despite that, Kerala Blasters have yet to win an ISL title, finishing twice as runners-up. Both times they were thwarted by ATK, once in normal time and once on penalties.

The current side, which remains a strong one thanks to some smart signings during the player draft and outside of it, will look to overcome the hurdle of always being the bridesmaid but never the bride.

READ | Kerala Blasters bank on attacking football to excel in 2017-18 Indian Super League

The Blasters have always been one of the strongest sides in the tournament. They have failed to make the knockout stages only once in 2015 and will look to build on their strengths and finally give the people of Kochi what they so desire: a maiden ISL title.

Past performances

2016 – Second place, lost 4-3 on penalties to ATK in the final

2015 – Finished last in league stages

2014 – Second place, lost 1-0 to ATK in the final

Manager profile

Rene Meulensteen, 53, was announced as the new manager earlier this year. The Dutchman is best known for his long spell at Manchester United, where he managed the youth team from 2001-06. He then managed the Reserve squad for a year before becoming the assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson till the great Scots retirement in 2013.

He then became assistant manager to fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink at Russian side Anzhi Makachkala and even managed the side for 16 days before returning to England to assist Martin Jol at Fulham. He took over the reins at the club after Jol’s early sacking, lasting four months at the job before being replaced.

READ | Indian Super League 2017-18: FC Goa aim to win maiden championship

Since then, he’s had short spells as a consultant for Major League Soccer side Philadelphia Union and as manager for Israeli Premier League side Maccabi Haifa.

Meulensteen, like many of his compatriots, likes to play an attractive style of football. “I like to bring a very exciting brand of football because a club like Kerala Blasters, with the fanbase they have got, they deserve an exciting brand of football,” he said during his official unveiling as the club’s new manager earlier this year.

Players to watch out for

Sandesh Jhingan – The 24-year old defender is a fan favourite at Kochi, having won the club’s Emerging Player of the Year award during the inaugural ISL in 2014. He’s also become a mainstay in the Indian national football team over the past three years and even captained the side during the recent tri-nation tournament.

Defensively solid and good with the ball at his feet, India coach Stephen Constantine has touted Jhingan as a future Indian football team captain.

READ | Sergio Lobera, FC Goa manager, aims for ‘balance’ in Indian Super League 2017-18

Dimitar Berbatov – The Bulgarian striker is well past his prime at this point, but he is a known name that fans will flock to see in the yellow jersey of Kerala. He is best known for his spells at Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and also Fulham where he played under Blasters manager Renee Meulensteen.

The mercurial frontman, who is Bulgaria’s all-time leading goalscorer, is a joy to watch when on his game and could well pose a threat to defences even at 36.

Iain Hume – The Scottish-born Canadian striker represented Kerala Blasters in the inaugural season of the ISL and then spent two seasons at ATK, even winning the title with them in 2016.

The 33-year old frontman is a hard working player who loves to score goals and is even the league’s all-time leading goalscorer with 23 goals. Blasters fans will be delighted to see him return to the fold and he could well be the difference maker for the side.

First Published: Nov 11, 2017 09:16 IST

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