Kerala Blasters captain Sandesh Jhingan has played down the importance of securing the signature of a big name 'marquee' player ahead of the 2018-19 season.
The 25-year-old defender believes that the Indian league is a stage for Indian players to prove themselves and ultimately contribute to the progress of the Indian national team.
"I never believed in the concept of one player running the team. It is not a one-man show. This league is for Indian players. Whatever we do is to improve the Indian national team. For that, we need the Indian players to play more. I am very happy to see a lot of teams spending money at the grassroots level. I am always in support of having more Indian players on the pitch," said Jhingan.
The Yellow Army had roped in former Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov as their big name signing last season but the Bulgarian failed to make an impact in the Indian Super League (ISL). Berbatov left the club at the end of the league season and took to Instagram to criticise the methods of head coach David James, a move that the Blasters skipper felt he should have done face-to-face with the coach.
"What is a marquee signing? A big name, that's it, right? I am not against it but sometimes things don't go too well. When we signed Aron Hughes, he was a top player. It is like a gamble. The tag of marquee player adds extra pressure.
"We signed Berbatov and it didn't work out well. He was not man enough to come and speak in front of the coach and posted on Instagram. If you are a man, you come up and speak. I don't have much to comment on that, he did what he had to do. It's okay, he came, did his best, did not work out for him and for us. We need good players, that's it."
Kerala Blasters will take on Melbourne City and Girona FC in the La Liga World pre-season tournament in Kochi before the start of the new ISL season. After a disappointing 2017-18 season where they finished sixth on the table, Jhingan and co. are looking to be back amongst the title-chasing pack.
"Last season was disappointing. We tried hard, especially after the third season where we lost in the final.
"We had a good pre-season in Spain, the boys were really sharp. Then to not make it to the semifinal is always heart-breaking. When Rene Meulensteen, it was a tough situation but credit to David James who came in and brought the team together really well.
The expectation this season is again to win the league. But it is going to be hard, there is no denying that. We will take it one game at a time," said the former United Sikkim centre back.
The 2018-19 season of ISL could see Kerala Blasters fielding an all-Indian centre-back partnership after bringing in Indian international Anas Edathodika.
"As defenders, the more we play together, the better we become. `We have played together in the national team for two years. It is always a joy to play with Anas Edathodika. As I have always said, he is like my elder brother," said Sandesh Jhingan.
Kerala Blasters will kick-start the La Liga World tournament against Melbourne City at the JLN Stadium in Kochi on Tuesday. Kick-off is at 7 PM IST.