ISL: Kerala Blasters bringing in the big guns!

Six years ago, Berbatov shared the EPL golden boot award with Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, topping the scoring charts with 20 goals. He is clearly the biggest name the Blasters has signed in its three-year Indian Super League history.

Dimitar Berbatov Kerala Blasters

Former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov has joined Kerala Blasters this season in the ISL.   -  AFP

In the first three years, one got the feeling that the Kerala Blasters ran the show on a shoe-string budget. It never had big names, instead it chose to make them at its Kochi base. This season has been a pleasant change in many ways. After coming painfully close to the title twice, in the first and third editions when it finished runner-up, the Blasters appears to have laid out a big budget in an effort to take the title.

READ:  The Hume perfume wafts back!

Past Performance

2016: Matches played:17; Goals scored: 15; Top scorer: C.K. Vineeth (five); Result: Runner-up.

2015: Matches played: 14; Goals scored: 22; Top scorers: Antonio German and Chris Dagnell (six each); Result: Finished last.

2014: Matches played: 17; Goals scored: 13; Top scorer: Ian Hume: (five); Result: Runner-up

For a side which could not make much of a noise when it came to big names in the past, Kerala Blasters FC has a lot to shout about this time. The Kochi-based team has roped in some stunning names like Manchester United stars Dimitar Berbatov, Wes Brown and has also managed to bring back the hugely popular Iain Hume for the Indian Super League’s fourth edition.

Six years ago, Berbatov shared the English Premier League’s golden boot award with Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, topping the scoring charts with 20 goals. He is clearly the biggest name the Blasters has signed in its three-year history and the move has raised pre-season chatter to a feverish pitch.

To begin with, one got the feeling that the Blasters ran the show on a shoe-string budget. It never had big names, instead it chose to make them at its Kochi base.

Iain Hume is a classic case. The Canadian international did not have much of a build-up when he landed in Kochi for the ISL’s debut season but by the end of the year, Hume had made such an impact that he walked away with the Golden Ball as the league’s best player.

 

The seasoned star is now the ISL’s all-time top scorer with 23 goals and probably its most popular player ever.

That was almost the story of players like Sandesh Jhingan, C. K. Vineeth, Jose Currias Prieto, Sanchez Watt and Kervens Belfort too.

The Blasters also had a reputation of not holding on to its top stars earlier. Hume was a huge factor in the Kochi side finishing runner-up in the opening season but the Blasters did little to stop him from moving to Atletico de Kolkata the next year.

That had its effect, along with the frequent change of coaches, and the Blasters sank to the bottom of the league table in the second season.

The calming influence of Englishman Steve Coppell — a fine strategist and the team’s best coach ever — lifted Blasters stunningly to the runner-up spot last year but he now holds the reins at debutant Jamshedpur FC.

This season has been a pleasant change in many ways. After coming painfully close to the title twice, in the first and third editions when it finished runner-up, the Blasters appears to have laid out a big budget in an effort to take the title. The longer season, with two new clubs, could also be a factor in the Blasters adopting a different strategy this time.

PHOTO FEATURE:  ISL Matches that thrilled!

The Blasters now has a new coach in Dutchman Rene Muelensteen and is now a completely revamped side especially when it comes to the team’s foreign players.

Meulensteen played a key role in bringing in former Manchester United stars Berbatov and defender Wes Brown to Kochi having worked with the two during his days as assistant coach of the EPL giant.

The Ghana under-23 attacking midfielder Courage Pekuson and Serbian defender Nemanja Lakic Pesic are some of the other new foreigners in the team.

Apart from Jhingan, the familiar faces include prominent goal-getter C. K. Vineeth, Rino Anto and the Japanese-born Indian Arata Izumi, a player who claims that Kochi is one of his lucky venues.

The team has had a month-long pre-season camp in Spain and one will have to wait and see how long the newcomers take to settle down and what sort of form the big names are in.

Will Berbatov’s magical touch lift Blasters?

CELEBRITY SPEAK

I.M. Vijayan - Expecting a better show

Just back after watching India defeat New Zealand in the T20 thriller in Thiruvananthapuram, I. M. Vijayan is excited about the upcoming ISL.

“Yes, all of us are excited when we hear about the big names, we seem to be a better side than last year. And Hume’s return is very good news,” said Vijayan, former India captain and one of India’s finest footballers ever.

“We entered the final last year, so this year, we will expect a better show from Blasters. But we have not seen them so far, we can only judge a team after probably watching two or three games.

“Steve Coppell looked very quiet but he was brilliant with his players. Now, we have a new coach and he has brought a new bunch of players, it will be interesting to see what sort of new things the new man will try out.”

  Dugout videos