Kerala Blasters FC 2015 Squad: Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

There’s no one better than John Le Carre when it comes to writing spy novels. No, don’t talk to me about Ludlums and Flemings, I fall firmly in the Le Carre camp.

However, it seems that the Indian Super League’s inner soul has also been reading Le Carre’s works. Why, you ask, my gracious reader?

I believe we have the makings of a John Le Carre novel in our own lovely Indian Super League especially with the confirmation of Peter Taylor as the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad manager. To be precise, with Taylor’s arrival, we’re almost ready to have the Indian version of the Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy! Consider.

Marco Materazzi is The Tinker

Marco Materazzi = The Tinker

Marco Materazzi = The Tinker

If you saw how Chennaiyin FC was managed by Materazzi last time out, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Marco tinkered with his time like there was no tomorrow and in a way there wasn’t. His most noticeable tinkerings had come in the semis – specifically the second leg.

You, like I, should expect Materazzi to continue tinkering. So, Marco Materazzi is my Tinker.

Habas the Henchman is The Soldier

Habas the Henchman

Habas the Henchman = The Soldier

Without a doubt, Habas the Henchman is the soldier. He fights, he rages, and behind closed doors, he probably choke slams people.

That player won’t train the way he was told? Choke Slam!

That chairman didn’t buy the player he asked for? Choke Slam!

That team bus got a puncture? Choke Slam!

That crystal meth won’t cook right? Choke Slam!

That sandwich is too salty? Choke Slam!

That constipation in the morning? Choke Slam!

Anyways, you get the idea. Habas the Henchman typifies the soldier in this setup. His team is always physical and with great stamina. His strategy is more about domination and intimidation than finesse and technique. He focuses on brute strength. So, Habas the Henchman is my Soldier

(Trivia: If Habas the Henchman was leading Delhi Dynamos FC, what would happen? Of course, they will win but apart from that? He would be Chole Slamming people! Get it? Coz he’ll be in North India? No? Pfft! What do you know!!!

Peter Taylor is… err… The Tailor

Peter Taylor = The Tailor

Peter Taylor = The Tailor

So, I come to my senses and we come to the Taylor… or the… Tailor, whichever one you prefer.

You know, I am not just using this lingo at random. I actually believe that these three managers characterise the names I am giving them.

You saw how I explained Marco and Habas. Was I wrong? Let me explain Taylor and you’ll see what I mean by Taiylor (I can’t keep typing Taylor and Tailor all the time, so!).

In case you didn’t know Peter Taylor has been signed to lead the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad.

Generic media news would tell you that Peter Taiylor is a former English national who has coached junior England national teams and multiple English clubs before agreeing to lead the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad.

Some journos who’ve done a little bit of research would even tell you that Taiylor once even managed the full England national team. However, that was for just one match against Italy, which he lost 1 – 0.

The really hardworking ones will tell you that Taiylor has recently managed Bahrain and brought them their first regional trophy. They will list all the teams he’s managed but what none of them will tell you is what he’s like as a manager.

That job falls to me. Taiylor is actually a tailor, the way he manages. He sews things. He mends teams. He makes sure that they don’t come apart at their seams. This means that Taylor becomes by Tailor.

What Are the Greatest Achievements of Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor with Hull City

Peter Taylor with Hull City

Peter Taylor’s greatest achievement in my eyes was back to back promotions for Hull City FC from Division Three to The Championship.

He took reins of a club in dire straits and catapulted them to the Championship.

He only left because Crystal Palace (a club he had played for and loved) came calling.

By the way, because of his achievements with The Tigers, Taiylor is highly respected by their fans.

His second best achievement, according to me, occurred when he managed England. That was the game he gave a break to David Beckham, Gareth Barry, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher, and Emile Heskey with Beckham the captain.

They were all youngsters then. So, it was kind of ballsy and perceptive.

How Will Peter Taylor Lead the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 Squad?

Every time Taiylor has managed a team, he has tried to work within the resources that are given to him. He has always managed to do well by his team but has never managed to truly make his teams great.

In other words, he has always been one step below the top flight managers. But, he has managed to do well against the second and third tier managers fairly often. So, I’m not that surprised that he has chosen to come to India and lead Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad.

He was going nowhere in a hurry and was a free man before the chance to lead Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad came calling. Taiylor has a tendency to play to his team’s strengths so expect him to try to work within the limitations of the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad.

Attacking Hull City FC

Attacking Hull City FC

I know for a fact that he likes attacking football because that’s how he had his most successful team, Hull City play. At the same time, if he feels he doesn’t have the right players, then he may just choose to be pragmatic about the whole thing.

Regardless of which style of football Taiylor patronises while leading Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad, I think he may be an upgrade on David James. First of all, James was a player manager which means that his concentration was always split up. Secondly, James didn’t have much experience as a manager.

In fact, Kerala Blasters were the first team he managed. James’ lack of focus because of his dual roles and his lack of experience is why I think Taiylor is a better option.

The Junior Lewis Connection

Junior Lewis

Junior Lewis

Another thing you Kerala Blasters FC fans should know about is that Taiylor has a special brotherly love thing going on with Junior Lewis.

Basically, everywhere Taiylor goes, the first thing he does is gets Junior Lewis to join him.

He has signed Lewis six times as a player and two times as a coach or an assistant manager.

Lewis is currently free so you may see him joining the Kerala Blaster FC 2015 squad as well.

I don’t know whether Lewis coming to Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad will be a good thing or not. This is mainly because Lewis usually operates at extremely small clubs in England.

Still, I am not one to reject someone before they’ve shown what they can do so I’m being optimistic even if he does follow Taiylor.

Who Will Be The Spy?

So, I have satisfied my verbal diarrhoea about Taiylor and explained to you what I expect from him as the manager of the Kerala Blasters FC 2015 squad. Now, we’re left with the Spy.

Who will be the Spy of the ISL 2015 season? We don’t know. How can we know? If we knew the Spy wouldn’t be a good spy now would he? He would be Johnny English then. The way I see it, the Spy will lead one of the teams that have not been pegged to do well.

Sam Allardyce - The Angry Spy

Sam Allardyce – The Angry Spy

The Spy could be a player like Adriano who is expected to come but fail after he comes. The Spy could have been Harm Van Veldhoven but he’s already left these shores. The Spy may be a manager who hasn’t been revealed yet.

Consider the fact that Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce are both being considered by Indian Super League franchises. The Spy could be either one of those. I am waiting for the arrival of my Spy.

Let’s see if our John Le Carre novel actually comes through.

How Have the ISL Marquee Players Performed This Season – Part I

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

The Champs Atletico De Kolkata and the ISL Finalists Kerala Blasters FC

ISL Marquee Players

Many More than just 8 ISL Marquee Players

Let me start with a few disclaimers. This will NOT be a short post. It will NOT be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’. It will NOT be generic.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain what I meant. By saying that this will not be a short post, I mean that I will actually do some research into each player I am going to mention here. I plan to check stats and even some videos for this post.

By saying this this will not be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’, I mean that I will go beyond the 8 player restriction that that official term triggers. I will expand that purview to include other players. How will I decide who gets to be researched? Well, that’s my prerogative. This means that I may leave out some players that you think deserved to be included. If you think I did, give me a shout.

By saying that it will not be generic, I mean that you shouldn’t expect this post to be like the generic crap that many ‘news websites’ (I call them link junkies) are churning out under the guise of ISL Marquee Player reviews.

I have shortlisted 17 individuals who, I believe, need to be treated as ISL Marquee Players and one surprise, which makes a total of 18 people. Naturally, since I can’t create a single long and winding post that never ends, I’ll be breaking this one down to smaller pieces. In this instalment, you get the two ISL finalists.

So, without further ado, let’s get down and dirty.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Luis Garcia

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Kolkata’s Luis Garcia did what I call the intangibles. He wasn’t at the end of the good things that Kolkata did but he was neither negligible because he made his team tick. What I mean by intangibles is that what he did wasn’t directed at appearing in statistic tables.

He only provided two assists and scored twice, of which one was a penalty kick. He wasn’t the most prolific shooter and he didn’t even get the majority of his shots on target. With players like these, you need step outside the general view. You have to see them in action in real games. You have to see their indirect influence so to speak.

Luis Garcia’s influence on his team, while not exemplary, wasn’t negligible either. Every time he was on the pitch, I could see Kolkata’s passing quality becoming that much better. All you need to see Garcia’s value to his team is see the games in which he isn’t playing.

Kolkata’s attacks were more blunted and ineffectual without him. They simply lacked the guile that is needed to unlock defences. At the same time, he could’ve done more.

If you’ve seen Luis Garcia play at his peak then you would know that his biggest strengths were his agility and speed both of which are not available to him anymore. It is because of this reason that I’m not surprised with his underwhelming performance. I still had expected a little more.

Expected Rating**: 7.5 / 10

Final Rating: 6 / 10

I expected him to do more mainly because I hadn’t seen him for a long time and remembered his days in the Liverpool and Atletico De Madrid jerseys.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Borja Fernandez

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

I remember when I used to think that Borja Fernandez was a very good player. He had just broken through the Real Madrid first team then.

He ended up playing only 23 games for them over a period of 3 seasons. That was 2003, a period when I was easily wowed by football. Nowadays, I’m a little more jaded having seen the Invincibles which I believe was the epitome of football.

Borja was a mixed bag of a player in the last 3 months but I think he fit in perfectly with Kolkata’s philosophy. You most probably don’t know what I’m talking about because you haven’t seen the stats yet.

Borja was the best tackler in the league. He had the maximum number of tackles at 63. He was far ahead too because the second position is held by Denson Devadas of Chennaiyin FC with only 53.

However, answer me this. What happens when you have a player who is free with his tackles? Why, you get loads of fouls! That’s exactly what Borja did too. He was second in the Indian Super League with fouls committed at 36.

Who was he behind? His darling teammate Fikru Lemessa. How behind was he? By only 1 foul! So, the top two foulers in ISL were from Atletico De Kolkata. If you’ve been reading my reports, you’ll know that I’ve been castigating Atletico De Kolkata for their overly physical game. With these numbers I rest my case on that debate.

Expected Rating**: 6 / 10

Final Rating: 6.5 / 10

I didn’t think Borja would end up having the kind of influence that he did in the end but a lot of that is because of the way his team was setup. His team’s style of play and his style of play were perfectly complimentary which is why he turned in a better season than expected.

Kerala Blasters FC’s David James

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

You could say that David James is a legendary British keeper. He still holds the record for most clean sheets in the English Premier League and is 3rd in terms of all time appearances.

In the yellow of Kerala Blasters FC, despite his old age (he is 44 years old just in case you didn’t know), James still showed why he is a legend. It is unheard of for players to play up to 44 years, even if they’re keepers but James did and did a fair good job of it too.

James played 12 games for Kerala, an achievement in itself but kept the opposition from scoring in 5 of those games. Overall, he allowed 10 goals in at an average of less than a goal per game. Those are good numbers even if you don’t consider James’ age.

The best part about James, though, was his performance as a manager. Granted, Kerala Blasters FC struggled to score goals during the league phase of the ISL but the way that they turned up in the ISL semi final was a coaching master class from James.

Before the ISL semi finals, I said that James was being selfish as a coach by ensuring clean sheets and that he needs to open up his team a little more to score goals. That is exactly what happened in the ISL semi finals as Kerala Blasters blitzed Chennaiyin FC into a catatonic state. You could see the Chennaiyin players reeling on the ground at the Kerala Blasters onslaught.

I will always remember the way in which James turned around his team’s style. I’ve never seen such a drastic change made in such a small time with the same manager and players being available.

In the end, James, I think, did justice to his legend and may well be on his way to adding to that legend as a manager. I won’t be surprised if he gets a chance as a manager in England soon.

Expected Rating**: 6.5 / 10

Final Rating: 8 / 10

I expected James to do well as a goalkeeper but not as a manager. He was decent as a keeper but brilliant as a manager. Together, he exceeded my expectations!

Watch this space for More ISL Marquee Players’ Analyses

So, this was my analysis for my ISL marquee players from the two ISL finalists. Don’t sit back just yet because the next post will be an analysis of the ISL marquee players from the bottom dwellers of the league Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC. Keep watching this space.

**Expected Rating: Rating I expected the player would get at the beginning of the league.

ISL Final: Efficient Atletico De Kolkata Are the Deserved Champions

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Ok, let’s begin with a confession. I’ve never bothered with opening and closing ceremonies and the way I’m doing I doubt I ever will. What I have a tendency never to miss though is finals. I sit here with a stiff drink and even stiffer chips on a very soft seat looking forward to watching the ISL Final.

In terms of team news, it seems that I was wrong about Kerala Blasters not having their 1st and 2nd choice keepers. David James chose to give himself what could be his last ever start in a professional football game.

Other new names in the Kerala Blasters starting line-up were Saumik Dey at left back and Nirmal Chettri at right back. Sandesh Jhingan moved into central defence.

Atletico De Kolkata had to endure a heavy blow before the game as Luis Garcia and Lester Fernandez wasn’t deemed fit enough to start the game. For those two, Arnal Llibert and Kingshuk Debnath came on.

Kerala Blasters Start More Positively

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

Unsurprisingly, Kerala Blasters were the more attacking of the two teams even though Atletico De Kolkata started in their 4 – 4 – 2 formation.

Both teams were set up to be attacking but it was really Kerala who looked more comfortable in the opponent’s final third.

Within the first 10 minutes, the most interesting part of the game was that David James wasn’t moving as freely as you would expect him too.

He was moving gingerly and was being very careful with his clearances. I wondered if that would be something that would end up causing problems for Kerala Blasters especially if the ISL Final was to go to penalties.

Two Great Chances – Two Great Examples of Good Defending

Victor Herrero Forcada, Atletico De Kolkata

Victor Herrero Forcada (Polga), Atletico De Kolkata

What was clicking for Kerala Blasters, though, was their attack. In the 11th minute, Victor Herrero Forcada (Pulga) created good space for himself in the 18 yard box.

He got a shot off but it was blocked off. Ishfaq Ahmed was right behind Pulga by creating a wonderful opportunity of his own from outside the box.

He tried for the near post after beating 3 Kolkata players but Apoula Edel proved a match for his shot.

Referee under the Spotlight

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 25th minute, Atletico De Kolkata showed what they’re capable of. Their midfield set Mohammed Rafi free in the middle of the pitch who showed great skill to control the ball.

However, he couldn’t be the man to win the ISL Final for his team because Chettri came in and fouled him clumsily. It could’ve been a red card but the referee chose a yellow card instead.

I wasn’t entirely sure which card it should’ve been because there were other defenders in line but not ahead. So that was one where interpretation of the rules comes into play.

Atletico De Kolkata and Kerala Blasters Exchange Blows

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Atletico De Kolkata’s best chance came as a twin. The ball was crossed from deep on the right flank and Rafi got to the ball too but James had positioned himself flawlessly.

This was followed by a long range shot from Jakub Podany (Pody) towards the near post which James saved too.

Iain Hume came up with a brilliant freekick in the 39th minute. His shot went up and over the wall and towards Edel’s right corner. Fortunately, Edel read the shot and managed to palm it for a corner.

After those chances, the ISL Final became scrappy with both teams giving the ball away in quick succession. That’s how everyone went into the half time break.

Exchange of Blows Continues In the Second Half

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Atletico De Kolkata started the second half on the front foot. Their aggression seemed to have surprised Kerala Blasters because they got pegged back and made some unforced errors.

However, they recovered very quickly and very effectively. Michael Chopra was set free at an acute angle in Kolkata box and got a ferocious shot off towards the top corner.

However, Edel again stood strong and unconventionally chose to punch it away with one hand.

Kerala Blasters Attack; Atletico De Kolkata Counter

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Normal service resumed after that as Kerala Blasters continued to dominate. Hume was set free to run at the keeper but I believe his age caught up with him before he could reach Edel. Once the one on one evaporated, there wasn’t much he could do.

However, Kerala Blasters continued to attack looking for that elusive goal while Atletico De Kolkata courted it in the way of counters. On one of those counters, Sandesh Jhingan almost scored another own goal.

Another counter resulted in Arnal being free from an acute angle. Still, he had James on a one on one but couldn’t even work him. His shot went high and wide and James stood there unruffled.

The Red Zone of Fatigue and Mistakes Begins

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

After that flurry of attacks, as fatigue set in, the game became slower after the 60th minute. I believe that it wasn’t just fatigue but also mental jitters of playing in the ISL Final that kept the players from playing freely. They simply became safer and safer as the clock ticked on.

The best chance for Kerala Blasters came in the 79th minute. Kerala Blasters showed some deft interplay and understanding and created a chance for Chopra just inside the box. Chopra received the ball in the centre and passed it to his left to Stephen Pearson. Pearson returned the ball to Chopra inside the box but Chopra’s shot was too tame.

Neither Chopra nor Hume looked tired in the 83rd minute though. Hume rand free on his team’s left flank and cross but his cross was deflected. The ball fell to Chopra who first fought hard and then bedazzled the defender to get his shot off.

He didn’t consider Edel in his equation, though, because Edel pulled off what could’ve been the save of the whole season. The shot was almost point blank. At the same time, Edel managed to somehow palm the ball away onto the post. The ball glanced off the post and went out for a corner.

The ISL Final Winning Goal

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

After almost 93 minutes of waiting, the ISL Final winning goal finally came from the unlikeliest of sources and the unlikeliest of teams. Mohammed Rafique was the scorer and Atletico De Kolkata were the winner.

I believe the corner was taken by Polga. The corner came from Atletico De Kolkata’s left side and the shortest players on the pitch at that time rose tall and proud to head the ball into the bottom corner on James’ right side.

James dived full stretch but even the legendary James couldn’t have done anything to save that header.

The Mecca of Indian Football Gets the First Indian Super League Trophy

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

The funniest thing was that the goal came right at death. There were 3 minutes added by the referee and the goal came when the 93 minutes had already gone by. Rafique just headed himself into the history books with the first goal in the ISL final.

Kerala Blasters looked unbelievably dejected. I didn’t think it would’ve mattered to them so much to win the final. One of the most disappointed players on the pitch was James. He actually went and sat at the bench for a good 15 minutes staring into space.

Colin Falvey had tears in his eyes as did Jhingan and other Kerala Blasters players. Sachin Tendulkar actually came onto the pitch to console his players. He’s a part owner of Kerala Blasters, in case you didn’t know.

The most heartening part of the game was that when the final whistle was blown, Atletico De Kolkata players celebrated for a minute or two and then went to the Kerala Blasters players. You could see them consoling their opponents in the most sporting manner I have ever seen.

Atletico De Kolkata may not play the most beautiful football in the league but they do play it in the most effective way. I may not like their intimidation and physical tactics but today they showed empathy and heart when they went to console their opponents after winning the game. It was good to see and must be appreciated.

The champions of the Indian Super League needed to be special. In the ISL Final, Atletico De Kolkata showed why they are special. I tip my hat to you good sirs. They deserve the win.

ISL Final Preview: Kerala Blasters’ Dynamism vs. Atletico De Kolkata’s Efficiency

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

You know, as much as I like a good tactical battle, when I come to the ISL final of a grand tournament, I expect some level of entertainment. Unfortunately, these two teams are not inspiring much confidence in me of getting that.

In fact, I am decidedly feeling underwhelmed about this match. However, since this is the last match of the season I’ll haul my ass to my extremely comfortable TV room and even deign to make myself a drink. Such struggles I go through for you guys.

A Nation Hopes from Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata ISL Final

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

ISL Final – Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Those of you who’ve been watching Chennaiyin and FC Goa must already realise that with both those teams not playing, the ISL final is going to be all about defence.

The most optimistic amongst you will be hoping that Kerala Blasters bring that same swashbuckling drive to the game that they had purring in the ISL semi final.

I fall firmly in the second category. I actually want Kerala Blasters to open the scoring so that Atletico De Kolkata are forced to come out of their shell and attack a little more. Besides, a game that isn’t completely tactical will be good for football in our nation.

Personally, I don’t care who wins in the end as long as the game is fun to watch, so before either of you Kerala Blasters and Atletico De Kolkata fans castigate me, remember that I’m a neutral in this game.

Kerala Blasters Have Slight Edge over Atletico De Kolkata

Stephen Pearson's Deciding Goal

Stephen Pearson’s Deciding Goal

In my opinion, Kerala Blasters have a slight edge over Atletico De Kolkata. My reasoning for this is simple. After the ISL semi finals, Kerala Blasters have more flexibility to their game. They can actually rely on this flexibility to help them come out on top in the ISL final.

They played the whole of the league phase defensively. They couldn’t score a goal even when their league lives depended on it. It’s partly through luck that they got through. However, as David James says, it does take a little bit of luck to win a trophy.

Just look at the years before Arsenal won last season’s FA Cup and Chelsea in the run that was blessed by God, the Son Of God, Three Holy Spirits, Ghosts of Christmas, Zeus, Pagan Gods, Doctor Manhattan, and even the Chittauri.

The best thing that Kerala Blasters did is that they turned up for the ISL semi finals in the most confidence building manner possible. They routed Chennaiyin in the first leg and came up with the knockout punch at the very last moment to get through to the ISL final.

The timing of the knockout punch is important because I think Kerala Blasters were reeling by that time. Their confidence was on the wane and they most probably wouldn’t have survived if the game had gone to penalty shootouts.

Atletico De Kolkata Govern Themselves with a Different Philosophy

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

Total Football from Ajax in 1973

In contrast, Atletico De Kolkata defended for the majority of the 180 minutes of the ISL semi finals. The only time they looked to be peeping out of their hardened shells was in the first half of the second leg. But, they must’ve not liked what they saw because they jumped right back into their shell in the second half of the second leg.

Who can blame them? They fell back on the strategy that allowed them to clear the league phase. After they fell back on it, they actually got through to the ISL final with the same damn strategy.

Heck, that strategy has worked so often that even I am on the verge of believing in its miraculous wonders. The only reason I’m holding back is my allegiance to Total Football – the kind that Ajax made popular in late 1960s and early 1970s. Once you’ve seen total football, you never go back.

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

Antonio Lopez Habas, Atletico De Kolkata

However, Habas the Henchman obviously hasn’t seen that style of football because he has a very minimalistic strategy. He doesn’t want his team to take any risks. I think he hates risk of any type.

He must be the type of person who always keeps a buffer of cash for lean times, ensures that his kids have the fear of god in them, doesn’t eat outside food much, avoids going out at night, never drives after drinking, and erm…never drinks. I wonder how he enjoys life.

Whatever you may feel about his strategy, it has given Atletico De Kolkata results and it’s all about results in the end. If they win, they will be remembered for decades while the great football styles of Chennaiyin and FC Goa will be forgotten by the next generation. Such is football.

Kerala Blasters Have To Cope With Suspensions

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

From what the head coaches David James and Habas the Henchman have been saying and what I personally understand of the mentalities of the two teams, I can surmise that Kerala Blasters may set up to attack while Atletico De Kolkata may continue with their own drab but result oriented strategy.

David James clearly promised an exciting game in his pre-game press conference. It’s also important to note that James has managerial aspirations in more high profile leagues in Europe.

I think he wants to impress some big shot Chairmen with his performance in the Indian Super League. He needs to produce in the ISL final for that as well. I believe mentioning winning a trophy in your first season as a manager in your CV is something that will improve his chances of landing a big job. This is another reason why I think he’ll try to go for the win.

The world’s media wants to know about it, so to think that’s it’s easy or that there is no pressure is completely wrong. It’s been three months, it’s been serious from day one, I’m a competitor and I have a team of competitors and we want to win the cup… I think we’re set for a wonderful encounter tomorrow; it’s going to be a wonderful and exciting game.

Kerala Blasters will have some selection headaches. Their biggest problem will be the keeper position. They may have to play the relatively inexperienced Luis Barreto, if neither James nor Sandip Nandy is deemed fit.

Colin Falvey’s fitness will be in question and I think Cedric Hengbart may be injured. They’ll also be without Jamie McAllister and Gurwinder Singh both of whom are suspended. James may choose to use any of Ishfaq Ahmed, Nirmal Chettri, and Raphael Romey in their places. Expect Pulga, Stephen Pearson, and Iain Hume to also continue.

Atletico De Kolkata Will Be Without Fikru

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Fikru Lemessa, Atletico De Kolkata

Habas the Henchman will start with his normal strategy simply because it has done wonders for him so far. In a total of 16 games, Atletico De Kolkata have only lost 3.

That, by the way, is the lowest in ISL. Chennaiyin had only lost 3 too till they lost the first leg of their ISL semi final.

Another reason why I think that Atletico De Kolkata will carry on with their strategy of stifling out their opponent’s attacks is because they are still without Fikru Lemessa. He has been their target man and defensive striker, if you must.

Fikru will not take part in the final. His injury does not permit that… But we have other players in our squad who are hungry to prove themselves and will grab this opportunity with both hands.

Without him, they have a sore hole in their attack. They deploy Mohammed Rafi in front but he acts more like a false nine than a proper forward. He still does the job of a defensive forward though.

He is accompanied by Luis Garcia who, let’s face it, doesn’t have the pace or stamina of his younger years. What he does have is vision and that X factor. I expect him to show some magic in the ISL final on account of it being such a big day.

So, this makes Atletico De Kolkata the more efficient team in the ISL final while Kerala Blasters are the more dynamic of the two.

Marvellous Innovation From Chennaiyin Fails to Pay Dividends

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Wow! What a match that was! I am still catching my breath and trying to calm down my palpitations. This was a game that reminded me of the 2012 UEFA Champions League when Arsenal almost pulled off a wonderful comeback against Bayern Munich.

I remember that Arsenal had lost 3 – 1 at home against Munich. They went back to Munich and were one goal short of eliminating Bayern Munich.

If Chennaiyin had managed to pull off this wonderful comeback I would’ve cited Liverpool’s great comeback in UEFA Champions League final of 2005 when they came back into the game from being 3 goals down.

Strange Strategies Make Sense in Practice

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

Bernard Mendy, Chennaiyin

This was sheer entertainment and it began even before the first ball was kicked with the way that the teams were set up.

For example, the way that Chennaiyin set up was very interesting. They chose to play 8 defensive minded players again.

I would’ve thought that they would’ve chosen to play Bruno Pelissari and Elano both along with Jean-Eudes Maurice and Jeje Lalpekhlua.

If anything, they went even more defensive than their last game. They took out, yes took out, Elano and Balwant Singh. For them, they brought in Gouramangi Singh and Marco Materazzi. I found that extremely confounding up until I saw them on the pitch.

They had Bernard Mendy in the right forward position and Materazzi in the left central midfield position. Harmanjot Khabra, who started the last game in right back, was playing right central midfield.

This showed me that Chennaiyin were trying to use their size advantage. As a result I expected to see lots of crosses and freekicks being thrown in. I was proven right within a few minutes of the first half when Chennaiyin kept lobbing ball to Mendy and Materazzi.

Kerala Blasters, on the other hand, only brought in Sandesh Jhingan for Nirmal Chettri. I don’t think Kerala Blasters had any idea what Chennaiyin would throw at them.

Chennaiyin Started Like Hyperactive Demons on the Pitch

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Marco Materazzi, Chennaiyin FC

Of the two teams, Chennaiyin started much more brightly. In fact, they were so eager that the kick-off had to be done again due to infringement into the centre circle by one of the Chennaiyin players.

Chennaiyin attacked throughout and created the first great chance in the 12th minute. A cross came in from Chennaiyin’s left flank.

It was flicked on by Materazzi and a Chennaiyin player on the far post (I think it was Maurice) hit a venomous shot which the keeper got a hand to. The ball bobbled on the line before it was cleared.

The game was extremely intense. Chennaiyin players were trying to rile up all the Kerala Blasters’ players. Materazzi, I believe, raised his hand to Victor Herrero Forcada’s (Pulga) neck and followed it by condescendingly slapping Colin Falvey’s face.

In the 19th minute, Materazzi set up Jeje who tried the lower right corner but scuffed his shot. It still required the Kerala Blasters keeper, Sandip Nandy to stretch like a rubber band to save it.

A Sending Off Decides Kerala Blasters’ Strategy for the Rest of the Match

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Jamie McAllister, Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters managed to create a chance of their own in the 25th minute via Iain Hume. Hume and Michael Chopra combined and the former used a little bit of his skill to get free in the box.

Unfortunately for him, Shilton Paul was off his line to block the shot. Shilton Paul, by the way, was brought on in place of Gennaro Bracigliano.

The situation got worse for Kerala Blasters a little later when Jamie McAllister was given his second yellow card for a rugby tackle.

His first yellow had come in 6 minutes for, get this, time wasting. That sending off made the match even more interesting.

Chennaiyin Complete Their First Labour

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Mikael Silvestre, Chennaiyin FC

Chennaiyin had a very good call for penalty when Gurwinder Singh pushed Maurice. Instead, the referee gave Kerala Blasters a freekick for the following incident involving high boot.

In the 42nd minute, Chennaiyin completed their first labour. They won a freekick on the left flank.

Surprisingly, Materazzi took the freekick and delivered an Elanoesque ball into the 6 yard box. Mikael Silvestre ran across his defender and headed the first goal. Chennaiyin FC 1 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

Kerala Blasters Shoot Themselves in the Foot Then Chennaiyin Do the Same

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Whatever Kerala Blasters discussed during the half time break, it came to naught because they gave away a penalty within 3 minutes of the second half.

Jhingan used Maurice for climbing practice and brought him down in the process.

The referee blew the whistle and Materazzi stepped up. He stroked the penalty home but the referee decided that it had to be retaken because of Maurice’s encroachment into the box.

Materazzi’s second effort flew wide by inches. The score remained the same.

The Calm before the Storm!

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandip Nandy, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 57th minute, Chennaiyin brought on Elano when Nesta had to hobble off due to a faulty hamstring.

Moreover, after the 60th minute, there was a bit of a lull in the game as Kerala Blasters started wasting time by feigning injury. The game became broken and Chennaiyin couldn’t create any momentum.

I think fatigue also came into play because the players looked tired too. In the 75th minute, Kerala Blasters pressed the big red button with 12 letters on it – S.E.L.F. D.E.S.T.R.U.C.T.

A hopeful ball was put into the Kerala Blaster box which Jhingan decided to chest to his keeper. The keeper, probably because of nerves, decided to come for the ball which Jhingan had chested. He was caught in no man’s land and the ball trickled over the line. Chennaiyin FC 2 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

It’s important to add that the mistake, in my mind, was from Nandy as opposed to Jhingan. That ball was in no way the keeper’s. Besides, Nandy was nursing a hamstring injury and limping all over the place. What was he doing running out of his box?

Chennaiyin Make Everything Even!

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Jeje Lalpekhlua, Chennaiyin FC

Now, Chennaiyin only needed one more goal and I wanted them to get it because I wanted 30 minutes extra of this wonderful game.

Pelissari got a chance to level the aggregate score in the 85th minute when he broke through the Kerala Blasters defence into the box. His shot, though, ended up going wide.

It wouldn’t matter because on the stroke of 90 minutes Chennaiyin got their third goal by cheating.

Mendy drove towards the touchline in the 18 yard box and looped a glorious cross towards the far post. Jeje was there to hand the ball into the net. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 0 Kerala Blasters FC

I like the fact that this meant 30 minutes more but I didn’t like the fact that it came from cheating. Now, I’m not criticising Jeje because I’ve never been in the kind of situation he was in. For all I know, he handed the ball into the net reflexively.

I’m just ruing the fact that it took something like this for Chennaiyin to equalise on aggregate. I wish the goal was clean.

Chennaiyin now had their tails up in the air. Elano decided to test Kerala Blaster’s third choice keeper with what must’ve been a 35 yarder and another 30 yarder. Luis Barreto could barely keep the first one out while the second one flew over the crossbar.

Same Number of Goals and Now Same Number of Players

When the extra time started, one thing would’ve been clear to anyone watching the match. The match was now Chennaiyin’s to lose because they had the better players on the pitch. In fact, their players were fitter too. They almost showed it in the 100th minute when Elano took a corner and Materazzi almost scored with his head.

In the 104th minute, the game turned on its head. The referee decided to give Materazzi his second yellow card in less than 5 minutes for what was an innocuous challenge. The first yellow card was fair but the second one was plain daft.

It was the wrong call from the referee just like Jeje’s goal was the wrong call. However, what it did was that it made the game 10 vs. 10. With all the remonstrations, angry words, criticisms, and questions from globally established football stars, this was trial by fire for the ref.

Kerala Blasters Pull a Rabbit Out Of the Hat

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

Stephen Pearson, Kerala Blasters FC

The game was well spread with only 20 players on the pitch. Moreover, the fatigue made everyone slow so there were lots of gaps everywhere.

I said the match was Chennaiyin’s to lose and lose it they did with only 3 minutes to go. They allowed Stephen Pearson to score a goal from the middle of the 18 yard box with his left foot.

Granted, he got a lucky roll of the ball but his finish was good. I didn’t think Chennaiyin would have it in them to come back from this. Chennaiyin FC 3 – 1 Kerala Blasters FC.

For the last few minutes, Kerala Blasters would hold out and instead of either of the teams, the match would be counted legendary. This was special folks, I hope you saw it.

If you didn’t, I hope you read this. Even if you do, I hope you do it again! For now, your breathless friendly neighbourhood football buddy bids you adieu.