All set for a goal rush

Kerala Blasters’ marquee player Carlos Marchena during training at the Green Field Stadium in Thiruvanantha-puram. The former Spanish World Cup player will be the key man in the Kerala outfit’s defence.-S. MAHINSHA

Though Kerala Blasters finished runners-up last year, they had the dubious record of having scored the least number of goals — 13 overall. This year, the team will focus on scoring more goals as they attempt to improve upon their performance of last season, writes A. Vinod.

Initially, there were rumours about delayed payments to the players. And next, the team failed to hold on to its key players. However, what cast a definite shadow on the future of Kerala Blasters was when the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) imposed a heavy fine on the team’s majority stakeholder, PVP Ventures, for flouting the rules on inside trading.

Like Kochi Tuskers, was Kerala Blasters also jinxed? The Tuskers played in only one season of the Indian Premier League before they were terminated by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The doomsayers were working overtime, spreading canards that suggested that Kerala Blasters were set to down shutters. However, this sordid chapter is a thing of the past, and the team went through their preparations for the second season of the Indian Super League in right earnest.

Last year, Kerala Blasters were the biggest surprise of the ISL. After an indifferent start, the team dished out a solid display in the second half of the tournament and emerged second best to Atletico de Kolkata, the champions.

Players of the new-look Kerala blasters warm up during a training session at the Green Field Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram.-S. MAHINSHA

The Blasters have a new look this year having retained only six players from their squad last season. Kerala Blasters, based in Thiruvananthapuram all through their preparatory period, have a new marquee signing — former World Cup player from Spain, Carlos Marchena. They are managed by former England manager Peter Taylor. Helping Marchena in Kerala Blasters’ defence are Bruno Perone, Sandesh Jhingan, Marcus Williams and Peter Ramage. The team’s midfield will be marshalled by Joao Coimbra, Cavlin Lobo, Josue Currais Prieto and Mehtab Hossain. In the goal, either Stephen Bywater or Sandip Nandy will be the preferred choice.

Chris Dagnell and Sanchez Watt will lead the Kerala Blasters’ attack, with the Kerala-born Mohammed Rafi likely to be tried in a few matches.

Though Kerala Blasters finished runners-up last year, they had the dubious record of having scored the least number of goals — 13 overall. For sure, the team will focus on scoring more goals this year as they attempt to improve upon their performances of last season.

* * * THE AIM IS TO SPEED UPTHE ATTACK

S. MAHINSHA

Peter Taylor (above) had the good fortune of managing the England team

Kerala Blasters signed Taylor, 63, as the head coach in May this year, and the Englishman, a tough taskmaster, has earned the respect of his players. He is a man with a vision, and his mission this year is to help Kerala Blasters do one better than what they did in the inaugural year when the team finished runners-up to Atletico de Kolkata.

"I am told that the side has a huge fan base and therefore they cannot be disappointed. However, it is not going to be easy as the team could mange only 13 goals in all last year. My aim - taking these factors into consideration - would be to help the team play with more pace in the attack so that we score more this season," said Taylor.

"I am going to take one match at a time. So strategies will depend on the opponent at hand and so would the team's line-up. Anyway, it is still too early to talk about strategies; the focus now is on helping the players gain match fitness.

"The good thing about the ISL is that it insists on having five Indian players all the time on the pitch. I wish they followed the same rules back home in England, as this is surely going to help Indian football in the long-term, with the League helping the Federation to get more and more players for the Indian team.

"With the matches all being played in India, I think what we have done by sticking together in Thiruvananthapuram, instead of going abroad for training, is right. The players should be used to the heat in the country and this I think would stand the team in good stead," Taylor signed off.

A. VINOD * * * OVER TO RAFI

S. GOPAKUMAR

Last season I played for Atletico de Kolkata and our pre-season camp was in Spain. We spent around 45 days in Spain and played five practice matches. By the time we came back, all of us had reached our peak fitness. I personally found it easier to train in the cool climate of Spain. But the sudden change in climate at home in Kolkata put a lot of us in great difficulty.

It was very hot in Kolkata at that time of the year, and many of us, including me, struggled initially. We found it difficult to breathe, but gradually, I overcame my difficulty and tried to put in my best effort.

After the I-League, I had about two months break. I was, basically, resting at home, doing only light warm-ups in the evening. I knew I had to work hard to reach peak fitness and was ready for it when I joined Kerala Blasters' pre-season camp in Thiruvananthapuram. The trainer, Ciaran Deely, gradually increased our load. We trained twice a day. Deely made us do a lot of sprints and we worked with the ball a lot, and every second day we were in the gym, building our strength. Deely also ensured that we got enough time to recover. We had ice baths and did swimming for recovery.

The humid climate was a bit of concern for foreign players. But I think they have got used to the conditions now. We are nearing our peak fitness. We played well in the practice matches. Personally, I am looking forward to a good stint with the Blasters.

AS TOLD TO M. R. PRAVEEN CHANDRAN * * * THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Stephen Bywater, Sandip Nandy, Shilton Paul.

Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Saumik Dey, Sandesh Jhingan, Carlos Marchena, Bruno Perone, Peter Ramage, Gurwinder Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Marcus Williams.

Midfielders: Ishfaq Ahmed, Peter Carvalho, Joao Coimbra, Antonio German, Mehtab Hossain, Cavin Lobo, Josue Currais Prieto, Pulga, Shankar Sampingirajj, C. K. Vineeth.

Forwards: Chris Dagnall, Mohammed Rafi, Manandeep Singh, Sanchez Watt.