On March 7th 2020, Kerala Blasters FC (KBFC) reserves beat Gokulam FC in the final of Kerala Premier League (KPL) at Calicut Corporation Stadium to lift the first trophy in their short history. KBFC reserves which consists of young players (most of them are from their own U18 team) won 6-5 in penalties against a strong Gokulam side which had 3 foreigners at their disposal. A result which deemed surprising for many football fans included some of the KBFC’s most faithful fans but for those who are associated with the club, it is a result for their patience and their commitment towards youth development.
Inception and 1st Season
KBFC kicked off their youth development under their former CEO Varun Tripuraneni in 2017. His first step was the appointment of former Shillong Lajong head coach, Thangboi Singto as the technical director of the club. Singto along with C Shameel (AFC A-Licence holder) and Renjith TA (former assistant coach, Eagle FC & AFC A-Licence holder) played a crucial role in building their reserve team and youth teams which took part in I-league 2nd division, youth leagues and KPL.
Results favoured their efforts as KBFC reserves under coach Shameel had an amazing run in the subsequent edition of I-League 2 division. KBFC reserves, consisting of Indian players only, topped the group stage and became 1st reserve side to do so. Sahal Abdul Samad and Md. Rakip were some of the notable performers in the squad who eventually got a call to the senior team for the next year under then KBFC head coach David James.
The KBFC U18 team under coach Renjith didn’t disappoint at all. The U18 team who started as the runners-up of Kerala zone reached till the final of the U18 I-league only to lose against Shillong Lajong U18 team. KBFC U18 who played 11 matches before final won 7 matches and drew only couple of matches. One of their notable performance came in their win against a star studded Minerva Punjab U18 team which had players from the recently concluded U17 FIFA World Cup squad.
2018-2020:- U15 I-league and the Champions of Kerala
2018-19 season started with the promotion of the U18 players to reserves paving a smooth pathway. The young reserve side had a slow start in I-league 2nd division but they shifted their gears in the KPL. KBFC reserves reached the semi-final of the KPL for the first time in their history but eventually lost to Gokulam in penalties, who later on became the runners-up.
The U18 side qualified to the final qualification round of U-18 I League, as the champions of the kerala zone. Goal differences prevented their chance of further progression in that season. Alex Shaji was one of the notable, promising player. He was rewarded with a prompt call to Kerala Santosh Trophy squad and thus became one of the youngest players in the squad. The U15 side under coach Shameel also displayed amicable performance by reaching the semi-final of the U15 I-league. Not only they performed well, the junior side thrilled everyone with their attacking brand of football. They finished the season with a goal difference of 33, out of which 5 came against the Kolkata giants East Bengal.
KBFC reserves under coach Ranjith started 2019-2020 on a mixed note. They promoted U15 top scorer Christopher Rajkumar and some of the promising young talents to the reserve side. The young KBFC side reached the KPL final. Although they had a brilliant season till then, their best was saved for the final. The players displayed a beautiful brand of football against the Gokulam side, powered by foreign players, for straight 120 minutes and clinched the trophy in the shootout, writing a new page in their short history. The captain of the title winning team was Pragyan Gogoi, a member of KBFC’s U18 team of the first season.
Future looks bright for KBFC as their commitment towards youth development is pretty much visible in their recruitment system. When most of the clubs are going behind big names, KBFC are looking for young promising talents.
The success of any youth team reflects in the player promotion through the age group transition of a club till the senior squad. Nine of KBFC players got calls from the senior team. KBFC youth system is also beneficial for national team as well as other clubs. More than 10 players received calls from various national youth-teams and currently 4 players in I-League are on loan from the Blasters.
KBFC validated their commitment towards youth development by appointing Romanian UEFA pro-licence holder Mario Marinica as Technical Director of the academy. Under the new TD, all youth teams as well as the reserve teams are training under same philosophy. This approach will make the player transition smoother and easier during promotions to higher teams. With the introduction of Young Blasters program (a grassroot program for the kids starting from the age of six), KBFC is sowing seeds which will bear fruit in future, for them as well as for Indian Football fraternity.