Ground: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi
Owner: Blasters Sports Pvt Ltd
Head Coach: René Meulensteen
The story so far…
There are not too many football clubs in world football who take their name from the fact that one of their owners is (a) one of the greatest batsmen ever and (b) was known as the “master blaster”.
Sachin Tendulkar is joint-owner of Kerala, who have one of the best-supported teams in the ISL. They regularly average over 55,000 at the Jawaharal Nehru and ahead of their opening game in ISL 2017, fans are upset that there are not enough tickets to go round.
Despite losing their first ever ISL match in 2014 (1-0 to NorthEast United), Kerala went on to make the final in the inaugural season. However, Mohammed Rafique’s late winner for ATK condemned Kerala to their first finals defeat, something they repeated in 2016 once again to ATK – this time losing on penalties.
Former England goalkeeper David James was Kerala’s first ever head coach, combining the role with still playing. His contact book in England led to former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra, once the pioneer for Asians in English football, joining as Kerala’s first ever “marquee” player.
James was not retained as the coach for the 2015 season, the baton being passed to former England U21 (and for one game only senior squad) manager Peter Taylor. This led to an influx of English players in the Kerala squad as Peter Ramage, Stephen Bywater and Sanchez Watt all signed. The 2015 season was marginally worse for Kerala as they finished bottom of the ISL. Peter Taylor was dismissed early and replaced by former Ireland international full-back Terry Phelan.
Knowing they needed major changes and quick improvements, Kerala appointed former Crystal Palace manager Steve Coppell to lead the team in 2016. The addition of current Northern Ireland international defender Aaron Hughes certainly steadied the ship at the back, but Kerala struggled to score freely. However, they made it to the final once more but as we know were defeated by their nemesis ATK on penalties.
This season Kerala are aiming to break their ISL duck, and the signings of Dimitar Berbatov, Wes Brown and ISL record goalscorer Iain Hume suggests that new Head Coach Rene Muelensteen means business.
Why do Kerala play in yellow and blue? Sachin Tendulkar himself explains.
“The idea behind the yellow jersey was yellow stands for determination and faith. Determination by Kerala Blasters on the field to go and perform to the best of their ability and faith for all the well wishers of Kerala Blasters, to have faith in the team that they will go out and play in the right spirit.
Kerala Blasters are believed to have the best fans in India. They are certainly one of the best-supported sides. The Manjappada Fan Group was formed in 2014 to get all the fans together immediately, and before home games, they all work together creating incredible tifos, banners and other visual spectacles. The fans are typically known by the more simple name, “The Yellow Army” and with 55,000 fans on average attending the home matches, the city is brought to a standstill on game day.
The Kerala Blasters have developed a rivalry with another team from the south, Chennaiyin FC. The former Chennaiyin head coach, ex-Italy international Marco Materazzi (best known for his red card for headbutting Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final) was sent off during the 2014 fixture between the two clubs. The former Everton and Inter star was then given a one-match suspension in 2016 when he was involved in a scuffle between a Chennaiyin and a Kerala Blasters player. To rub it in, the next time the teams met each other “The Yellow Army” wore Zidane masks to remind Materazzi of his past.
Chances this season…
Naturally, the Blasters are aiming to finally win the ISL and their addition of Berbatov, Brown and Hume suggest they are well placed to do so.
However, Kerala are weak in goal – the pick between Sandip Nandy, Paul Rachubka and Subhashish Roy Chowdhury shows that the club are not exactly blessed in this department.
They may well struggle in defensive midfield, following Mehtab Hossain joining up once again with Steve Coppell at Jamshedpur. Many of their rival clubs have imported a foreign player to play in this important role, whereas Kerala have chosen not to.
They are certainly more blessed in attack than defence, which suits Rene Muelensteen’s philosophy but as we have seen time and time again in leagues across the world, having the best attack does not always guarantee success.
Kerala Blasters could well be the big name that disappoints this season.