A lot has been said about Kerala Blasters under Kibu Vicuna. The Tuskers have had a difficult Indian Super League (ISL) campaign so far and have operated way below the lofty standards that they set for themselves. While player injuries have played a part, a lot of that has been down to a collective loss of form for some of their most important players. They failed to win any of their first six games and at one point it seemed as if Vicuna had lost the dressing room. However, the next six have yielded three victories and it is no coincidence that young Rahul Kannoly Praveen has been at the heart of most things positive, with last night’s injury-time winner against Bengaluru being the most obvious highlight.
The Thrissur-born lad was an integral part of India’s U17 contingent at the 2017 World Cup before moving on to play in the I-League for the Indian Arrows. The 20-year-old was then signed up by Kerala Blasters ahead of the 2019-20 season but he ended up missing most of it due to injury. This term though, he has been playing like a man possessed. Having played close to 200 fewer minutes than star forward Gary Hooper, he has as many goals as the Englishman and has provided their attack with a new dimension altogether.
The youngster got his first goal of the campaign in a losing cause against Bengaluru FC earlier in the season, but the signs were there for all to see. This was his first start of the season and his endeavour and directness with and without the ball was something that was a refreshing change from the placid football that the Tuskers had delivered till that point. Since then, the only time when they have lost with him in the starting eleven was against a free-flowing Mumbai City. His incessant running and ability to work the channels has been a huge help for the other midfielders who know that they can depend on him to provide an attacking avenue at any given moment. That has been crucial for them in the last few games as they try to perfect the art of playing on the counter.
Having said that, he is no pushover when it comes to the defensive side of the game either. In 10 matches so far, he has 11 interceptions and 40 tackles, which is the highest amongst all the attackers in the side. What epitomizes his hard work and commitment is also the fact that he has committed 18 fouls so far, the most in the side. But those who have followed the Tuskers this season would know that most of them have been in situations where his desire to win the ball back has got the better of him.
At just 20, Rahul seems to be one for the future, a fact that the club have recognized and moved to secure him with a long-term deal. However, with just eight matches to go in their campaign, it is a little anticlimactic that they’re so heavily dependent on someone who is yet to play a full season at this level. Be that as it may, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he personifies everything that Vicuna wants his team to be. After all, they say ‘if you are good enough, you are old enough’ for a reason.