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ISL: Kerala Blasters' John Burridge out to repeat his legacy in Indian football

05:37 SAST 2019/07/24
John Burridge
The new Kerala Blasters goalkeeping consultant-coach thinks India can finish second behind Qatar in their World Cup qualifier group...

Workington-born John Burridge signed up for his home club at the age of 15 and built a worthwhile football career as a goalkeeper than lasted no less than 28 years. 

The former Blackpool and Sheffield United custodian, at 67, has now decided to embark on a new journey, thousands of miles away from home, to head the Kerala Blasters goalkeeping academy and work with the first team as a goalkeeping coach. 

India is not new territory for Burridge. He has been to the country in several roles as TV pundit and commentator. The veteran has plenty of lessons to teach young goalkeepers and during his stint in the south, John 'Budgie' Burridge is determined to once again help an Indian footballer get a taste of football in Europe. It was Burridge who recommended the current India No:1 Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to various scouts in Europe several years ago. 

In an exclusive chat with Goal, the Kerala Blasters goalkeeping coach said, "India is a sleeping giant in football. Choosing to work with Kerala Blasters was easy with the support the people here have towards the sports. Also, the club has good facilities to work with.

"My time here has been fantastic. The players have a great mentality and willingness to learn more. I wish to repeat my legacy here in Kerala - send an India-born player to Premier League. People may think I’m crazy when I say this, but it is possible."

You might wonder why there is a need for an academy for goalkeepers in India. In both the domestic leagues in India, matches have been riddled with blunders at the back and for this to change, work needs to be done at the grassroots. 

Burridge explained, "Goalkeepers need to be strong physically and mentally. He is the last line of defence in a team and the first attacker. Today, possession football is key. It's important to play from the back and control the ball. Hence, a goalkeeper must be very skilful with his feet, just like an outfield player. More importantly, he has to be proficient in both feet. Also, a clean sheet always boosts the morale of the entire team. So he needs to be vigilant at all times. 

"I must admit I don’t know much about the standards in Indian football. I have only worked with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the past, before Kerala Blasters. It was I who sent him to Norway. Of my limited experiences in India, I find the willingness of players to learn as fantastic quality," he added. 

Kerala Blasters head coach Eelco Schattorie has a tough task choosing his number one goalkeeper for the season. Bilal Khan, TP Rehenesh and Shibinraj Kunniyil are the three custodians fighting for the spot. After all, only one goalkeeper can fit into the eleven and Burridge is of the opinion that goalkeepers shouldn't be rotated, as long as he is doing well on the field. 

"I’m a bit old school in this regards. If a goalkeeper is performing well on the field, retain him. There is no need to change him. However, if his performance in two-three consecutive games is average or poor, get him out and give him some time to rest and retain focus. This process keeps the No. 1 goalkeeper on his toes and the No.2 goalkeeper wanting to push harder, work more and prove to be worthy to take up the No. 1 position."

The pundit in Burridge, which is popular among the Indian audience, was also invoked when the former Oman national team goalkeeper coach was asked about India's draw for the second round of the World Cup qualifiers. India have been drawn alongside Asian Cup champions Qatar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Oman.

"Qatar is a good side and will be the toughest in the group. However, India is a good team as well. I think India has a chance to come second in the group," he signed off.