Owned by cricket star Sachin Tendulkar*, who wants to see the Blasters rise to the top to bring the state of Kerala back to the top of the football pyramid, one can say his project has succeeded somewhat. Two final losses in four seasons isn’t bad, but last season didn’t go too well.
Kerala started out with René Meulensteen as head coach but after a poor start with only one win in the first eight games, he had to go. Two 0-0 draws from the first two matches set a bad tone and when they lost 5-2 to Goa on matchday four it seemed Meulensteen could be out of a job rather quickly. The 1-0 win against NorthEast probably salvaged his position, but a 1-1 draw with Chennaiyin just before Christmas and the 3-1 loss to Bengaluru on New Year’s Eve meant the Dutch coach got sacked on January 3rd.
The Blasters then brought in David James on the same day, who coached the team in their first season in 2014. This would be one of two turning points in the season for Kerala. A draw in their first match against Pune a day later was followed up with two wins, over Delhi and Mumbai. Two close 2-1 losses followed before the team started a playoff push in the final six games.
Delhi were beaten again, this time 2-1, and Pune were dispatched with the same scoreline a few days later. A draw against ATK was a slight stumble before NorthEast were beaten 1-0.
That meant that Kerala were sitting just outside the final playoff spot, in fifth, before the final two league matches, however, the opposition were number one and two in the table, Bengaluru and Chennaiyin. A 0-0 draw with Chennaiyin meant they fell to sixth ahead of the final league game and that a playoff place was impossible to attain no matter the result. Goa who were sitting in the final spot had beaten Kerala both times earlier in the season and the ISL is decided on head-to-head points if teams are level, which was the best thing Kerala could hope for.
That meant that the final match of the season against Bengaluru meant nothing and they ended up losing 2-0.
Looking into this season there is cause for some optimism. Gone is last season’s top scorer Iain Hume, he has gone to Pune, but in to replace him is Matej Poplatnik (46 in 68 matches for Triglav Kranj in Slovenia) and Slavisa Stojanovic (10 in 31 for Radnicki Nis in Serbia). The defence has been shored up with Frenchman Cyril Kali while the midfield has been strengthened with the inclusion of Nikola Krcmarevic from Faroese side 07 Vestur.
With David James getting a full season with the squad this could be another season where Kerala go to the final come the end of the season, and perhaps, this time, they could even go all the way.
*A note from the editor; yes, we know that Tendulkar is no longer the owner of Kerala Blasters, but Ola decided not to fact-check and rather than rewrite the opening paragraph, I thought it would be better to put this little snippet at the end!