Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Kerala Blasters FC are set to rope in English forward Gary Hooper ahead of the upcoming season, The Bridge understands. The 32-year-old, who was plying his trade at A-League club Wellington Phoenix last season, has agreed a one-year deal with Blasters, it can be confirmed.
Blasters, reeling after the loss of Bartholomew Ogbeche, had been desperately looking for an ideal replacement for a long time. They had identified Hooper a few weeks back and had begun talks, but for a while, there was a slight deficit in what the club was offering and what the player wanted which caused a delay.
The former Celtic forward is no doubt a prized catch for any ISL team. Last season, he had scored eight times and provided five assists for Wellington in the A-League and if he can replicate that form, Blasters fans would not miss Ogbeche.
What Hooper also brings to the table aside from goals and assists is bags of experience. Having started his pro career at Grays Athletic in 2003, the Harlow-born footballer quickly rose up the ranks of English football. His first major break came when he signed for Scottish Premiership side Celtic, a club where he would enjoy most of his success.
At Celtic, Hooper amassed an incredible 63 goals in 95 league matches before moving to Premier League side Norwich City. After his Norwich stint, which wasn’t as successful, he rediscovered his form in the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday, scoring 30 goals in 82 league appearances. He then moved to the A-League last season.
Kerala Blasters had to fight off Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC, who had also shown initial interest in Hooper. In fact, there were a couple of offers from elsewhere outside India as well. However, in the end, the Blasters managed to secure his services.
With the coronavirus pandemic taking an economic toll on the club, plans for the upcoming season were disrupted. Sandesh Jhingan, Ogbeche departed and Tiri’s proposed move fell apart, the squad looked like it was weakened. Thankfully, they were able to hold on to their key Indian players.
Hooper's signature will no doubt be a big boost for Kibu Vicuna. The new coach has his task cut out ahead of the new season but he has proved he can make do with little and produce results. A lot would depend on how Hooper and the rest of the team performs on the pitch.