Kerala Blasters were affected by the departures of several key player before the season kicked off and some of them are now set to play the ISL final
The careers of ATK Mohun Bagan defenders Tiri, Sandesh Jhingan and Mumbai City striker Bartholomew Ogbeche have one thing in common. All of them signed for Kerala Blasters, left the club and have reached the Indian Super League (ISL) final in the very next season.
Kerala Blasters’ woes in the ISL in recent years are well-documented but the 2019-20 season will go down in their history as one in which some of the transfers went wrong.
The departures of key players were talked about as a massive blow at the start of the season and now, it can be safely concluded that the Yellow Army lacked leadership and the quality of these crucial pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that remained unsolved throughout the campaign.
A level-up for Jhingan, Ogbeche
Sandesh Jhingan’s decision to join ATK Mohun Bagan ahead of the season was the biggest setback for the Blasters fanbase. The centre-back, who had been with the team since its inception, had become a fan-favourite and the captain of the team but he parted ways after six years without silverware.
Jhingan was out for the whole season during the 2019-20 campaign due to an injury he had picked up while he was with the national team. And there was no proper goodbye due to his lack of onfield action. Seeing their former favourite in Bagan colours in itself would have been hard to take for the Blasters faithful and now they are to watch the centre-back actually compete for a trophy that has eluded the Kochi-based club since 2014.
The case of Ogbeche is also not too different. He may have only been a Blasters player for one season but his impact was extraordinary. In just one season, the former PSG striker became the club’s all-time top-scorer with 15 goals during yet another season which didn’t turn out to be successful for the club.
The club needed to reduce their wage bill and Ogbeche received an offer from the City Football Group-owned Mumbai City at the right time. The Islanders’ timely approach allowed the striker to change colours from yellow to blue and his new team, led by head coach Sergio Lobera, secured the League Winners Shield and will take on Bagan in the final on Saturday. The striker has scored eight goals and two assists despite starting only nine matches in this campaign.
The one that got away
Tiri’s case was different from that of Ogbeche and Jhingan. He was never officially announced as a Kerala Blasters player but had a deal in place to join the Kochi-based club in the summer of 2020.
However, the club had to let go of the player allegedly due to budget constraints and the player ended up at – no prizes for guessing it right – ATK Mohun Bagan.
Tiri and Jhingan would have formed an excellent backline for the Yellow Army who ended up conceding 36 goals in 20 games to become the second-worst defence in the league, only behind bottom-placed Odisha.
Defending was the team’s major concern and it is the departure of these centre-backs that has hurt the club more. Bakary Kone and Costa Nhamoinesu simply failed to deliver in the top division and had a season to forget whereas the Jhingan-Tiri partnership currently boasts the most numbers of clean sheets and the least number of goals conceded by a team this season.
Tiri, who had impressive stints at ATK and Jamshedpur prior to the 2019-20 season of ISL, could have been one of the best signings by Kibu Vicuna but it wasn’t meant to be for the supporters whose wait for silverware continues.
Kerala Blasters have always been an attractive destination for big players due to their massive fanbase. However, going forward, there will soon come a time when it will be hard to attract the best just because of the fanbase and without success. The 2020-21 season is a warning sign for the Yellows.