As the ISL Draft came to a conclusion on July 23 at the St. Regis Hotel in Mumbai, all the teams had begun to initiate a change in the face of their squad. New entrants Jamshedpur FC and Delhi Dynamos had the task of building a squad from scratch while others had retained more than one of their valuable assets.
Two time finalists Kerala Blasters went into the draft having retained two of the vital cogs from their previous squad in CK Vineeth and Sandesh Jhingan along with Prashanth Karuthadathkuni in the U-21 quota and by the end of that day they had assembled a decent squad comprising of some very talented and experienced Indian players including the likes of Lalruathara and Rino Anto.
When you build a team, you build it from back to front. This concept was well used by teams like Jamshedpur and Mumbai City, with both teams roping in Subrata Paul and Arindam Bhattacharya, two of the most expensive goalkeepers in the draft, very early on at the player-picking event. Kerala Blasters had a plan and they executed it to near perfection during the draft but when it came to acquiring an impeccable option in between the sticks, it is safe to say that the jury is still out.
When coach Rene Meulensteen was quizzed about the same at his unveiling in Kochi, he had said, "The goalkeepers picked were very quickly gone to teams. That's why we didn't really put too much emphasis on it. Wait until the 17th November and I will make sure we have a good goalkeeper there....or a goalkeeper at least." And the Dutch-born coach acted true to his word although doubts about the quality in between sticks for his new club this term still persist.
While 30-year-old Subhashish Roy Chowdhury is a decent option behind defence, last year's ISL finalists were looking to replace Graham Stack and Sandip Nandy. He has only played a total of 720 minutes in the last two seasons in the I-League and ISL combined. Also the fact that the custodian has been injury prone in the last three years or so and hasn't been at his best since his first season in the ISL.
American-born Paul Rachubka was added to the fold and is expected to slot into the first team under Rene Meulensteen and the 42-year-old Nandy has re-joined the Yellow Army for the upcoming season, as announced by the club a few days ago.
Kerala Blasters were reportedly in the market for an Indian born custodian ever since the end of the ISL draft and with Nandy unsold, the club made their move. Although the veteran goalkeeper's commitment and experience cannot be questioned, it remains to see what the 42-year-old can bring to the table during the fourth edition of the Indian Super League.
Paul Rachubka's claim for a first team place is not the strongest, either. The 36-year-old former Blackpool goalkeeper has jumped from one club to another during his long career and the Manchester United tag that was attached to his name when he was signed is only because he has featured for them three times, before going on loan to a whole host of lower league clubs.
At 42, Nandy's fitness levels will have taken everyone by surprise. With the league now longer, the decision to rope him in would have been well thought-out but the bigger question the signing raises is the lack of options in the market. A point to be noted here is that he hasn't played a single minute in last season's I-League.
Did the Kerala-based club zero in on Nandy after failing to spot better custodians across the nation? Of the available Indian goalkeepers that we know, the Bardhaman-born man was probably the safest option but the team is visibly weakest in an area which can affect their chances for silverware. As well-known Welshman Gary Speed put it, when goalkeepers make mistakes, it is costly.
Kerala Blasters have now added two massively experienced yet unconvincing goalkeeper signings to their squad for the upcoming season and with better goalkeeping additions highly unlikely, one of them will have to step onto the field and prove doubters wrong if the Yellow Army is to get their hands on the trophy this season.