KOCHI: It was looking all gloomy inside the Gokulam Kerala FC camp around this time last month. They had only collected four points from nine games and with a squad depleted due to injuries and other reasons, there were no signs of a redemption and their I-League debut was apparently heading towards a disaster. But in the space of four weeks and as many matches, the club and its head coach Bino George-aided by some smart business in the winter transfer window- have turned things around. They etched three wins thereafter: against Shillong Lajong, Chennai City FC, and Mohun Bagan, the last being sort of a giant-killer. A feat that would be hailed for a long time from now on.
Running on a modest budget and new to the scenario, the club was hoping to finish somewhere in the middle of the table, as reckoned by the coach. Owing to the poor start, even a mid-table finish seemed to be a distant aim till a month back. But not now.
”Before the start of the season, we had aimed for a mid-table finish and we are heading in that direction. Considering our budget and the fact that we started assembling the team very late, this will be a fantastic achievement,” said Bino, who was reportedly on the verge of getting sacked after a poor start to the season. Before the memorable clash with the Mariners, Bino held his men’s 3-2 victory over Shillong Lajong FC in Kozhikode on January 28 as their “best win of the season”. His opinion is expected to change now --going by his celebration at the Salt Lake Stadium after Henry Kisekka fired in the 90th-minute winner on Monday. There was also a win against fellow strugglers Chennai City FC in January, which has bulged their tally to 13 points from 13 games -- only three behind fifth-placed Lajong, who have played three more matches.
Bino said the experience that the rookie players had amassed over the time has aided in the turnaround.
“Our players had zero experience at this level before the start of the season. So, the slow start was expected. But they have now adapted to the competitiveness of this league and they can only improve from now on,” the coach said. New international signings like Bahraini midfielder Mahmood Al Aljmi, who scored the opener against Bagan, as well as Musa Mudde, who are delivering more than their predecessors, have also contributed to the success. The centre-back pairing of Daniel Addo and Emmanuel Chigozie have not let in many goals recently.
Local talents like Arjun Jayaraj, Irshad Thaivalappil, Mohammed Rashid and Salman K have also been flourishing off late. “These players had only played college football before joining Gokulam. Mark my words, they are going to be the future stars of Indian football,” Bino said. “We are scouting for talents in Kerala who did not have a competitive platform to showcase their talents until Gokulam came along. We also plan to bring in some Kerala players based out of the state and improve the quality of our foreigners in time for the next season,” he added.
Bino said the team is high on confidence and that would be evident in the coming matches. “We are not going to be pushovers anymore and are going to give our opponents a run for their money,” the coach added.