Viva Kerala managed to retain K. Sharath and Shahinlal Meloly. E.C Sarath played no major role last season and thus left the club. He has been replaced by junior goalie P.P. Nishad.
Sharath and Shahinlal were the main goalies during the last season. However, Coach A.M. Sreedharan found it hard decide on the first choice keeper last season. In some matches, Sharath started, while in other matches, Shahinlal guarded the goal. This means that both goalkeepers have a certain experience of playing at India’s highest level now. On the other hand, none of the goalies seemed to have convinced coach Sreedharan fully.
However, it seems likely that K. Sharath will be Sreedharan’s first choice for the coming season. While Shahinlal – a former India U-19 national team player – seems to be more talented, lanky Sharath currently makes full use of his skills. If Shahinlal can develop a more commanding presence, he might take Sharath’s spot in the long-term. As of now, Sharath appears to have the upper hand in the battle for the no.1 spot.
The transfer period saw the departure of regular wingbacks K. Noushad (Chirag United) and the ever-dependable V.V. Surjith (KSEB). Apart from these two, Amarwant Singh and Mohammed Marsook left the club. On a bright note, the African duo at the heart of the defence, Bello Rasaq and Charles Dzisah, have been retained. Bello and Charles have been the main reason for Viva’s strong defensive line in the last season. Most of the pundits even think that Bello was Viva’s most valuable player. It comes as a positive signal that these players will continue to play for Viva this season.
To compensate the efflux on the defensive wings, Sherin Sam, T. Faizal, D. Sajin and Mohammed Muneer have been recruited. Sherin was promoted from the Viva U-19 team and has been a revelation in the preseason so far. Sreedharan describes him as an athletic, agile and powerful player who can play as a stopper back as well as on the right wing. He would even make for an accomplished central defensive midfielder. On the left wing, Sajin and Mohammed Muneer will vie for a spot in the starting XI. Sajin had a good last season as the captain of newly formed Josco FC. The former SBT player seems to be more defensive-minded when compared to Muneer, who is also suitable as a left midfielder. It is likely that Sreedharan’s first choice backline will comprise Sherin Sam as the right wing-back, Charles and Bello as stopper backs and Sajin on the left wing-back position. Viva veteran Sajesh, Faizal and Muneer will be likely backups on the wings while K.V. Shamil and Sadique Ali are standby central defenders.
The midfield of Viva Kerala has changed considerably when compared to last season. Most prominently, skipper M.P. Sakeer left the club in his quest to succeed at Goa’s Churchill Brothers. Attacking winger Siraj also went to seek greener pastures in Kolkata at Chirag United. Finally, PIO Patrick Sisupalan went back to England. Only young Karma Tsewang has been retained. The winger showed some impressive skills last season and was a coveted target on the transfer market. Nevertheless, he opted for a third year with the Kerala team. Versatile midfielder P. Rahul also extended his contract with Viva Kerala. The central midfielder can be an excellent and important player given full physical fitness. Sadly, Rahul is rather prone to injuries and this has prevented him to showcase his true potential. Only glimpses could be seen during the last season.
The most prominent signing in the midfield department is easily Kalia Perumal Kulothungan. The experienced Tamil Nadu attacking midfielder was with Mohun Bagan last season. Kulothungan will try to fill the vacuum left by Sakeer. The new playmaker might not cut such extraordinary passes like Sakeer, but Kulothungan is more hard-working and will also fulfil his defensive duties. Apart from this, he is a very good goalscorer.
V.R. Murugappan and Mohammad Shafi (brother of national team striker Rafi) will compete for the spot on the left wing. Murugappan played impressively in the recently concluded Santhosh Trophy, but Shafi is a dynamic player to watch out for. An interesting internal battle is on the cards. Other talented youngsters like Vineeth, Ummer Farooque and Jimshad will be important backup.
As opposed to last season, A.M. Sreedharan will be spoilt for choices upfront. During the 2009/2010 campaign, C.S. Sabeeth was the only quality striker. Too bad that the former junior international missed most of the campaign due to an injury. But he showed his superior class towards the end of the I-League. Sabeeth is a real goalpoacher and one can only hope that he stays fit throughout the season. Last year’s African striker, Reuben Senyo, was an utter failure. The bulky Ghanaian was more known for missing goals than scoring them. New Nigerian striker Mbwas Mangut can hopefully deliver. But he is yet to reach his physical fitness peak. Mangut has a certain experience of playing in India as he has had trials with East Bengal and played for clubs like ONGC Mumbai and Vasco SC. This might reduce the time he needs to acclimatize to Indian conditions. On the other hand, Mangut has never played at India’s highest level and it remains to be seen if he is up to the task. If he is fully fit, Mangut is a likely starter. It will be interesting to see who will partner him upfront. Sabeeth and new signings P.K. Anil Kumar and O.K. Javed will fight for the spot.
Anil is the darling of Kerala’s football fans and was instrumental in guiding Viva Kerala to India’s premier league in 2006/2007. Thereafter, he gained experience by playing for I-League rivals Salgaocar SC. As he never made a real breakthrough at the Goan club, Anil returned to his employer Kerala State Electricity Board. Just when “Junior Vijayan” was about to slip into football obscurity, Viva signed him up for the coming season. Anil is hard-working and a goalscorer. Due to his versatility, he is also adept at playing the role of an attacking midfielder. Apart from all this, Anil – just like Kulothungan – adds some much needed experience to the squad.
The real insiders’ tip might be O.K. Javed of Malappuram. The 25-year old is a Kerala State regular, but despite his tricky skills, has failed to make a national impression so far. Javed’s first stint with Viva Kerala in 2007 ended rather quickly as he deserted the team mid-way through the season. But one could already divine his superior skills during the Federation Cup 2007. Back then, he tormented the defence of established clubs like Air-India and Mohun Bagan. His performance was so scintillating that the late Noel Da Lima Leitao wanted to sign Javed for his favorite club Vasco SC. Coach Sreedharan insists that Javed is a changed man now and displays more professionalism nowadays. The striker had a decent last season with Chandni FC and once again decided to take up the I-League challenge at Viva Kerala. Sreedharan is so impressed with him that “I cannot avoid him in the first XI.”. Due to his pace and skills, he can also play as an attacking winger.