Seven shining stars in new-look Blasters line-up

Seven shining stars in new-look Blasters line-up
Gianni Zuiverloon, left, and Mouhamadou Moustapha Gning, right, with Kerala Blasters assistant coach Ishfaq Ahmed.

Kochi: Kerala Blasters, who finished runners-up in two editions of the Indian Super League (ISL), have managed to bring together a compact team with balance in all the departments for the sixth season, scheduled to kick off on October 20.

The team has been rebuilt from scratch after a disastrous campaign last year which saw them languishing at the bottom of the table with just two wins and nine draws in 18 matches in the league stage. Obviously, a major overhaul was inevitable after such a frustrating season.

The Kochi-based Blasters wear a formidable look, at least on paper, and are determined to come up with an improved show this time around.

Former NorthEast United FC coach Eelco Schattorie, who has a decent track record in the ISL, is their new gaffer.

Unlike his predecessors Rene Meulensteen, who banked on star power, and David James, who went in for unheralded foreigners and home-grown players, the Dutch tactician has opted for a safer approach by bringing together a unique mix of local and foreign talents.

The poor show by Blasters last year could be attributed to their uninspiring and pedestrian options in midfield and a toothless attack. Going into the new season, they have added more firepower to their midfield and forward line-up.

Blasters have spent big and brought in several top stars, both Indian and overseas, who have prior experience of playing in the ISL. With a new coach at the helm and a fresh approach, the Yellow Brigade believe that they can redeem themselves this season.

Let’s take a look at the seven new foreign recruits of Kerala Blasters who are expected to make an impact:

Mario Arques

The 27-year-old Arques is expected to hold the key to the team’s midfield solidity as he is good at both defense and offense. His tenacity and physical presence will certainly help Blasters dominate the play around the centre of the pitch. The Spaniard, who was one of the standout performers for Jamshedpur FC last season, possesses superb ball control as well as passing and shooting skills.

Sergio Cidoncha

Arques’s partner in Blaster’s midfield will be fellow Spaniard and former Jamshedpur FC teammate Cidoncha. On paper, this is Blasters’ best midfield combination as compared to that of previous seasons. The attacking midfielder, who had three goals and assists each to his name last season, finished fourth on the player rating chart last year despite missing a couple of matches towards the end of the season due to an injury. The 28-year-old, who won high praises for his last season’s performance for Jamshedpur FC, has the quality to break any defensive barrier with short and quick passes.

Bartholomew Ogbeche

A lot will be expected from this Nigeria-born Frenchman, who proved his credentials as a lethal striker for NorthEast United FC last year. The 35-year-old Ogbeche, who was the fifth edition’s joint second highest goal-scorer with 12 goals from 18 appearances, played a vital role in Highlanders progressing to the play-offs. With several years of top-flight football under his belt, the former Paris Saint-Germain goal-getter will be key to Blasters’ title aspirations.

Gianni Zuiverloon

The Dutch centre-back is another notable signing by Blasters. The sturdy defender, who played an integral role at the heart of Delhi Dynamos' defence last year, will be the pillar of strength in KBFC’s backline. The 32-year-old set-piece specialist’s former clubs include Premier League side West Brom, La Liga side Mallorca, and Feyenoord, RKC Waalwijk and Heerenveen.

Mouhamadou Moustapha Gning

The presence of Senegalese midfielder Moustapha Gning means KBFC have a world-class talent in their squad. Gning, who will be making his ISL debut, will certainly bring a ton of experience to the Kochi outfit. Having featured for the likes of SD Ejea, Lleida Esportiu, CD Ebro, SD Amorebieta, CD Sarinena, UD Logrones and Andorra CF, the versatile 30-year-old is expected to play a big role in the midfield.

Jairo Rodrigues

Brazilian Jairo Rodrigues, who plied his trade in top-flight leagues in Europe, Latin America and Asia, will be vital in KBFC’s defense this season. The 26-year-old is the second foreign defender signed by Blasters for the sixth edition. A tall, athletic footballer, he is known for his offensive capabilities, trickery, and technical qualities, and is a player in the mould of fellow Brazilians Dani Alves and Marcelo.

Raphael Eric Messi Bouli

Blasters completed their foreign quota for the season with the signing of Cameroonian Eric Messi. The 27-year-old centre-forward, who has represented Cameroon in the African Nations Championship and the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, is expected to form a deadly partnership with Ogbeche up front. He began his career with FAP Yaounde in Cameroon in 2013 before joining joining Canon Yaounde. He has also played in China and Iran.

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