ISL 2018-19: Time for David James to give Anas Edathodika his Kerala Blasters debut

It has been six matches into Kerala Blasters’ campaign in the fifth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) and Anas Edathodika is yet to kick a single ball for the Kochi-based outfit.

The Indian national team central defender arrived at the club amid much fanfare in the summer from his stint at Jamshedpur FC. It was meant to be the perfect move for the Malappuram-born player. The 31-year-old was, for the first time in his 11-year professional career, about to represent a club from his home state.

With Sandesh Jhingan already an established figure at the Blasters, Anas’ signing was meant to recreate the central defence partnership in the national team at the ISL.

That so far hasn’t come to fruition. While the three-match suspension he earned in Jamshedpur’s Super Cup clash against FC Goa had ruled the defender out of clashes against ATK, Mumbai City and Delhi Dynamos, he has not featured for David James’ in the three subsequent games that have followed as well.

While Jhingan continues to be an ever-present figure in Kerala’s central defence, it has been Nemanja Lakic-Pesic who has taken the other centre-back spot in the six games so far.

The only time in this season that the Jhingan-Anas partnership has been on the pitch came during the second half of India’s historic friendly away to China in October. The duo is now very likely to feature together in India’s upcoming friendly away to Jordan.

Why is it then that David James has shunned away from giving Anas his Blasters debut so far? The answer to that question remains a mystery despite their being some concerns over the defender’s fitness. However, given that he played half-an-hour without any visible discomfort against China a month ago, it is highly unlikely that fitness has been the only thing holding Anas back from featuring for Kerala.

An all-Kerala and India partnership in central defence would come as music to the ears of Blasters’ fans while also allowing James to field an extra foreigner in other areas of the pitch. The English coach has made a habit of not fully utilising his overseas players quota in the playing XI many a times this season, choosing instead to rely on the domestic talent at his disposal.

In this regard, Anas being frozen out of the starting XI in the three recent games is even more baffling and points towards a deeper reason for the defender’s continued exclusion.

Whatever the case might be, it would make sense for James to give Anas a run out in the coming matches for Kerala. To not make use of the defender after signing him in the summer would be a complete waste of resources from the team management.

While game time for Anas would be highly welcomed by Stephen Constantine given the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup is not far away now, it could also help the Blasters alter the balance of the team and allow for another overseas player in attack or midfield.

Since the 2-0 win away to ATK in their campaign opener, the Blasters have failed to keep a single clean sheet in the five matches to follow with the 2-1 defeat at the hands of Bengaluru FC bringing their unbeaten run in the league to a grinding halt.

There is really no downside to introducing the Kerala native to the playing XI given the options it opens up for James. With one-third of Kerala’s league campaign already over, it might be finally time for the Englishman to turn towards the experienced defender and see where it takes him.