The Indian Super League (ISL) has sparked immense interest in football in Kerala ever since its inception in 2014. The glitzy league has been witness to some fine young talents from that state making a mark at the highest level.
There are 15 players from the state, representing five clubs including local side Kerala Blasters, who will have a chance to shine in the seventh edition of the league, which began in Goa on Friday.
The Malayali contingent in Blasters' line-up comprises international Sahal Abdul Samad, U-17 World Cup player Rahul K P, winger K Prasanth, centre-back Abdul Hakku and midfielder Arjun Jayaraj.
Kolkata heavyweights SC East Bengal, who joined the ISL bandwagon this season, have three Kerala-born players in their ranks. They are former Kerala Blasters and Jamshedpur FC striker C K Vineeth, former Gokulam Kerala defender Mohammed Irshad, and Mirshad Michu, the young goalkeeper from Kasaragod.
Jobby Justin, who was a part of ATK’s ISL-winning team last season, had been retained by ATK Mohun Bagan, the new franchise formed through the merger of ATK and Mohun Bagan. Unfortunately, the 27-year-old centre-forward hailing from Vettukad in Thiruvananthapuram was ruled out for the entire season following a ligament injury.
There are three Keralites plying their trade with NorthEast United - V P Suhair, P M Britto and Mashoor Shereef.
The 28-year-old Suhair was an integral member of Kibu Vicuna's Mohun Bagan that lifted the last season's I-League title. A Native of Palakkad, the defensive midfielder has represented Kerala in the Santosh Trophy and the National Games as well as Gokulam Kerala FC in the I-League.
The 27-year-old Britto, who hails from Pozhiyoor in Thiruvananthapuram, is an established winger. He has played for Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan in the I-League and was part of the erstwhile Viva Kerala.
Malappuram-born Mashoor Shereef was an indispensable member of the I-League side Chennai City FC. The 27-year-old is a versatile player who can play in any position including defender, defensive midfielder, midfielder, and striker.
Three Malayali players featuring in the line-up of former champions Bengaluru FC are winger Ashique Kuruniyan, midfielder Leon Augustine and goalkeeper P Sharon.
Ashique has been a strong presence in Bengaluru's attack ever since he joined them from FC Pune City ahead of the sixth season.
Born in Kozhikode, Leon started his youth career at Bengaluru FC Reserves and Academy and made his ISL debut towards the end of last season. Sharon was also a member of Bengaluru's reserve side.
T P Rehenesh, who had a disappointing stint with Blasters last year, will be guarding Jamshedpur's goal this season.
Missing in action
Three Keralites, Anas Edathodika, Mohammed Rafi, and Rino Anto who were part of ISL's previous editions, will be missing in action this season.
Veteran defender Anas and striker Rafi were released by Jamshedpur FC and Kerala Blasters, respectively. East Bengal had signed wing-back Rino for the new season, but decided against registering him for the ISL.