BY NISANTH V EASWAR Follow @Niktheblue94 on Twitter
On New Year's Eve, there could be as many as three former Bengaluru FC players taking the field against their former club in yellow colours as Kerala Blasters head into their seventh game in the Indian Super League (ISL), their fourth in Kochi.
While such a reunion won't be a first in ISL, the fights between the fan groups of these two clubs have made the fixture a must-win for both teams. And that's extra pressure on CK Vineeth, Rino Anto, Siam Hanghal and Sandesh Jhingan, who have played more than a handful of games donning the blue jersey in I-League, the country's first division football league from where Bengaluru FC made the jump earlier this season.
Kerala Blasters have given these footballers the spotlight that they deserved. CK Vineeth, in his own words, "I have been playing for the past six-to-seven years. But after the past couple of ISL's, the whole of Kerala knows me."
Vineeth made the switch to Bengaluru FC from United Sports Club in 2013 and spent four good years with the JSW Group-owned club. Fellow Keralite friend Rino Anto spent three years as a Blue and the Kerala Blasters skipper Sandesh Jhingan also plied his trade at Bengaluru as a loanee. Siam Hanghal spent three seasons with the club and won three trophies.
The focus, however, will be on CK Vineeth.
The online fracas between Manjappada and West Block Blues, the supporters of Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC respectively, started back in August following Bengaluru's 3-0 win over DPR Korea's 4.25 SC in the first leg of their Inter-Zonal semifinals of the AFC Cup. CK Vineeth and Rino Anto, who are close friends off the pitch, journeyed to Kanteerava Stadium to watch their former club play. During the match, the hard-core supporters of Bengaluru FC came up with chants ridiculing Kerala Blasters with Vineeth and Rino sitting in the middle.
Manjappada declared war on social media and came up with the plan to 'paint Kanteerava yellow' when these two sides meet in Bengaluru on March 1st, 2018. But before that happens, the Blues will travel to Kochi to get a feel of the atmosphere generated by around 40000 fans.
While Rino Anto took to social media to state that he was deeply hurt by the chants against his current team, Vineeth opted for a diplomatic stance. He saw the positive aspect to what he hoped, will be a well-natured banter in good spirit.
He further went on to declare that despite his desire to score against his former employers, he will not be wheeling away in celebration if he does end up netting a goal. The 29-year-old has only good things to say about the club and its supporters.
It won't be right to say that these former players will set out to show Albert Roca what he has missed. After all, Bengaluru FC, four years from their inception, have two I-League titles and two Federation Cup trophies to their name already. Added to this, they are also the only Indian club taking part in the AFC Cup (Asian Football Confederation).
Kerala Blasters, on the other hand, have an empty shelf to show.
No, Bengaluru FC haven't missed these players yet. But Vineeth, Jhingan and Rino Anto have a point to prove on New Year's Eve, as three players who Bengaluru chose not to retain before the start of the season. However, Anto could possibly miss the game due to a hamstring injury picked up in the last game.
Vineeth's two goals so far this season, the flying header against NorthEast United and the added time equaliser against Chennaiyin, helped his team obtain four crucial points and before 2018 begins, he might as well add three more.