KOCHI: A good start to their Indian Super League (ISL) campaign which included a 2-0 victory over ATK in the season opener at Kolkata last week would have given Kerala Blasters head coach David James satisfaction in ways more than one. He not only saw his wards implement his gameplan to perfection but they also did so with a very youthful looking squad.
In a league mocked as a retirement home for international footballers, James fielded a backline which included two 18-year-olds in goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh and fullback Mohamed Rakip against the Kolkata side. Ahead of them in the centre of the midfield was 21-year-old local boy Sahal Abdul Samad who was handed his full debut in the ISL.
In fact, only the four foreigners -- Nemanja Lakic-Pesic (27), Nikola Krcmarevic (26), Slavisa Stojanovic (29) and Matej Poplatnik (26) -- were past 25 in the starting 11 against Kolkata. And if his words are to believed, Blasters are banking heavily on the youth and the former England international goalkeeper is not afraid to place his trust in young blood.
“Age isn’t a dictator in selection. It all depends on how they train before the game. I have felt that the younger players are more effervescent in the sense they move up and down the pitch more than the older players. As a manager, it gives me tremendous joy to see youngsters playing to their potential,” said the 48-year-old James.
And it looks like the club’s management is committed to promoting youth too (for a change!) as seen from the recent acquisition of India U-17 midfielder Jeakson Singh who scored India’s only goal at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. “We have a long-term plan at Blasters and we want to bring more youngsters through,” said James.
“Traditionally, the ISL has been about getting older players with experience and filling the gaps with the local players. But here, we want the best local talent and then get the best of the players in the country. Though he wouldn’t be featuring much in the ISL this season, Jeakson won’t be the last promising player who will be added to the system,” he added.
The coach also highlighted one youngster Sahal who put on an impressive show in the inaugural match at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium.
“Sahal is extremely talented and he should have aspirations to play for the national team,” he said. “He should be looking at India’s upcoming game against China,” James said.