BY ATANU MITRA
KERALA BLASTERS FC
After the relegation of Viva Kerala from I-League, the football fanatic state of Kerala once again has its own team to cheer for as Kerala Blasters, an Indian Super League (ISL) franchise is set to take the field on 15th October, 2014. Add to that the advantage of having Sachin Tendulkar as a co-owner and the outfit has garnered support from all corners of the state.
David Benjamin James, who, like Materazzi at Chennaiyin FC, has a dual role of player-manager at Kerala Blasters FC.
At 44 years of age, he is the oldest player to be involved in the Indian Super League. But since goalkeepers tend to play longer than other outfield players, his arrival means the Kerala Blasters have a seasoned resource at their disposal.
The English goalkeeper has over 24 years of experience having started his senior career at Watford back in 1989.
A FA Cup and a League Cup with Portsmouth and Liverpool respectively complete the list of his accoplishments to date. In 2010, at the age of 39, James was also the oldest goalkeeper to appear in the FA Cup final when Chelsea took on Portsmouth at Wembley. In the subsequent years, he moved to the lower leagues of England and played for Bristol Town and Bournemouth. As a player, he has the distinction of having played more than a 1000 games in all competitions with more to be added to the list in the ISL.
Speaking of James' coaching career, he took on the role of player-manager at Icelandic side IBV Vestmannaejar in 2013 before announcing his official retirement. Then in October the same year, James took up a coaching position with Luton Town, his boyhood club.
It must be also noted that in May this year, James declared himself has officially bankrupt.
James is also Kerala Blasters' marquee player, whose game and management the fans will be eagerly waiting to witness on the pitch.
With monumental appearance and clean sheet figures, the goalie certainly knows how to play the game and the Indian players will hopefully be benefited in his company.
Trevor James Morgan, the former East Bengal coach will be working as his deputy and will be eager to show that his calculated risk of initially assembling as many known faces as possible gave the team an early advantage in terms of combining within the unit.
The team management did a commendable job in the drafts to control the proceedings their way and have evidently assimilated a unit very close to the one they were targeting.
During the domestic drafts, Morgan concentrated on bagging players he has worked with in the past. In the first six rounds of draft, the former Hull City development officer chose five players who had donned the Red and Gold jersey under his tutelage with young Indian defender Sandesh Jhinghan being the only exception. The addition of local boy Chindorai Sabeeth and Sushant Matthew ensured that the crowd will support them whole-heartedly as well.
While David James will be the first choice goalkeeper, Sandip Nandy could also get reasonable opportunities on the pitch. They also have the experienced Luis Barreto as another option between the sticks.
Morgan had signed Irish central back Colin Falvey after hearing about him from former Manchester City defender Terry Phelan and the player is expected to start at the heart of the defense.
Accompanying him will be Raphael Romey, who had made 14 appearances for Bastia in Ligue 2 last year, while Sandesh Jhingan and Gurwinder Singh may also get some share of the action in order to accommodate more foreigners on the other half of the pitch.
James McAllister looks a sure starter as the left-back while Cedric Hengbart and Nirmal Chettri will share playing minutes on the other side. In the middle of the pitch, Mehtab Hossain and Ishfaq Ahmed will probably pair up to nip the opponent attacks in buds, with the latter also capable of playing as a left winger.
Penn Orji, East Bengal’s best playmaker during the Morgan era may keep his place in the starting eleven. Sushant Matthew will provide an option from the bench owing to his versatility while Pedro Gusmao or Victor Herrero Forcada is likely to feature alongside Orji.
Although Andrew Barisic has been prolific for the southern side in the pre-season, much will depend on Michael Chopra’s fitness. He managed to score twice against Salgaocar in their final fixture and looks likely to start alongside Iain Hume. Sabeeth is also in contention for a start should James opt to field more foreign players at the back.
Veterans like Renedy Singh and Soumik Dey and young foreigners like Erwin Spitzner, will give James more alternatives to choose from.
STRENGTHS: The defense of the team looks really strong, at least on paper, with multiple options available to the gaffer in every position. In Mehtab Hossain, Nirmal Chettri and Renedy Singh, they also have seasoned Indian internationals to add value to the side.
The presence of Mehtab Hossain provides the team with a leader while the absence of big names like Del Piero or Anelka may make it easier for the junior players to come up with their ideas. Above all, Trevor Morgan seems to be the best signing done by the club as the Britton has experience of managing an Indian club successfully, unlike most of the other assistant managers.
WEAKNESSES: The drawback of the side is their lack of a prolific Indian goal-scorer. While Sabeeth had stepped up in Mohun Bagan’s cause quite a few times in the recent past, he may find it difficult to create pace at the highest level.
The likes of Milagres Gonsalves are also yet to show their true potential and it’s almost certain that the gaffer will have to start with a couple of foreign attackers in the first team, which will in turn reduce the options in the midfield.
Also, there are concerns over Michael Chopra’s fitness and although he scored a brace in their last friendly, whether or not he can last for 90 minutes is yet to be determined.
STAR NAME - MICHAEL CHOPRA
Michael Chopra hails from the youth academy of Newcastle United where he first made his name as part of the first team contingent. The striker has scored 105 goals in 310 appearances in English football and Kerala will hope he replicates his goalscoring form in the ISL. Being of Indian parentage, Chopra is keen to now leave his mark on the develpment of the game in the country and the ISL offers him a great opportunity.
STAR NAME - Mehtab Hossain
The India international brings loads of experience to the table for the Kerala outfit. Described by Morgan as the ‘Indian Makelele’, he is adept at playing the role of a destroyer in the middle of the park. His positional sense and also deliveries from set-pieces are an added advantage. Easily one of the most committed Indian players on the field, his presence will benefit the side immensely.
18 SEP: 5-1 Kerala Police
24 SEP: 6-0 vs Sree Kerala Varma College (SKVC)
25 SEP: 5-0 vs Central Excise
27 SEP: 1-0 vs Mohammedan Sporting
03 OCT: 4-0 vs Vasco
05 OCT: 4-1 vs Cavelossim
07 OCT: 1-0 vs Churchill Brothers
09 OCT: 2-1 vs Salgaocar
GOALKEEPERS: David Benjamin James, Luis Barreto, Sandeep Nandy
DEFENDERS: Avinabo Bag, Cedric Hengbart, Colin Falvey, Erwin Spitzner, Gurwinder Singh, James Reynolds McAllister, Nirmal Chettri, Ramandeep Singh, Raphael Romey, Sandesh Jhingam, Godwin Franco
MIDFIELDERS: Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Renedy Singh, Sushant Mathew, Victor Herrero Forcada
FORWARDS: Andrew Barisic, CS Sabeeth, Iain Hume, Michael Chopra, Milagres Gonsalves, Pedro Adrian Veloso Gusmao
WHAT Do you think of the Kerala team? Can they win the inaugural ISL? Let us know by leaving a comment...
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