The signing of I-League winning coach Kibu Vicuna sparked hopes of a potential coaching revolution at Kerala Blasters. However, this optimism was met with an early blow with key player and fan-favourite Sandesh Jhingan set to depart after six years at the club.
The centre-back is someone who likes to put himself through crunching tackles and win the ball more often than not. Jhingan is one of the defenders you’d want in the back-line while defending a counter-attack with a numerical disadvantage. There is absolutely no doubt that any team would love to have a defender with Jhingan’s profile. His absence is hence bound to create a void in Kerala’s defence.
The centre-back has registered a tackle-rate of 2.55 per game in 76 appearances in the Indian Super League (ISL) so far. The high volume of his tackles evidences the impact he has had as a traditional no-nonsense defender.
But how well would he have fit into Vicuna’s side? The Spaniard’s preferred playing style as seen from his time with Mohun Bagan suggests that Jhingan’s departure would not be the worst change in personnel if Kerala manage to find a centre-back who is good with his feet.
Vicuna prefers ball-playing centre-backs. At Mohun Bagan, he had Fran Morante or Fran Gonzalez who was comfortable with the ball at his feet and played a key role in vertical progression of the ball during the build-up.
The build-up would start with Morante playing it out from the back before Joseba Beitia collects it and carries it forward. The presence of a ball-playing centre-back who can handle a high-press and play progressive passes is hence crucial in Vicuna’s system.
This attribute is one of Jhingan’s weaknesses. While there is no questioning his defensive prowess, the centre-back is not the best with the ball at his feet. Despite registering just 31.7 passes per game in 76 games, Jhingan has managed a pass completion of just 70.27 per cent.
FC Goa’s centre-back duo of Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena are great references for ball-playing centre-backs in the ISL. The former completes 45.8 passes a game with a success rate of 88.26 per cent and the latter registers 46.35 with an accuracy of 84.87 per cent.
Although the two players have played around 40 games in comparison to Jhingan’s 76 in ISL, the gulf in the numbers is an indication that Jhingan would not have been the perfect fit in a system which focuses on building from the back.
The Blasters are bound to miss the 26-year-old’s defensive abilities and finding an able replacement will be a challenging task. However, it is also clear that Jhingan does not exactly fit the profile that Vicuna prefers in his centre-back. The hunt is now on for a defender who is good with his feet and is capable of delivering vertical progressions on the pitch during the build-up.