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Get set, Gokulam!

Martin Joseph erala has always been one of the hotbeds of Indian football alongside states like West Bengal and Goa. The state has birthed generations of footballers who have excelled at the national

Published: 09th January 2021 06:32 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th January 2021 06:32 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: Kerala has always been one of the hotbeds of Indian football alongside states like West Bengal and Goa. The state has birthed generations of footballers who have excelled at the national level — from Thiruvalla Pappan to I M Vijayan. 

However, Kerala clubs have not been able to match the success that teams from Goa and Kolkata have managed to achieve. Ever since an organised football league was established in the country, no team from the state has managed to win a national league title. Now, Gokulam Kerala FC is determined to alter that record as they gear up for the new I-League season that opens on Saturday. 

The Kozhikode-based club was founded in 2017, and managed to quickly establish themselves as one of the leading clubs in the country. From winning the Durand Cup last season to lifting the Kerala Premier League trophy in 2018, the team has developed an appetite for victory.

And their next target, the I-League title. Despite winning the Durand Cup, Gokulam had a disappointing last season when they finished fifth. This year’s I-League matches will be held in Kolkata inside a biosecure bubble, owing to the pandemic. Before the whistle blows, TNIE brings you a curtain raiser of the much-awaited league.

Team mix
The squad’s highlight this season is a healthy representation of local talent. Out of the 24 players, eleven hail from Kerala. Senior players like C K Ubaid will spearhead the game plan, and new players like Emil Benny, Mohammed Jasim, Thahir Zaman and Alex Saji have been promoted to the senior team from the 
reserve side.

Goalkeepers
C K Ubaid ( Kannur) 

  • Second year at Gokulam 
  • Played for East Bengal in the past

P A Ajmal (Malappuram)  

  • Fourth year at Gokulam FC 
  • Reserve team keeper until two years ago 

Defenders 

Alex Saji (Wayanad) 

  • Promoted to senior team this year 
  • Represented Kerala twice in the Santosh Trophy

Mohammed Jasim (Malappuram) 

  • Promoted to senior team this year
  • Played with Gokulam reserves for two years

Jestin George (Kottayam): 

  • Former Bengaluru FC U-18 player 
  • Promoted to senior team from reserve team last year 
  • Won Santosh Trophy for Kerala in 2018 

Midfielders

Muhammed Rashid (Wayanad) Been with Gokulam since its inception 

  • Played for United Sports in Kolkata before joining Gokulam

Shibil Muhammed (Malappuram)

  • Promoted to senior team from reserves last year
  • Played for the Mohun Bagan Under-18 team and Gokulam Under-18 team
  • Gokulam’s top Indian goalscorer  last season  

Salman Kalliyath (Malappuram): With Gokulam since the club’s inception

Thahir Zaman (Kozhikode): 

  • Promoted to senior team from reserve team last year

MS Jithin (Thrissur): 

  • Won the Santosh Trophy for Kerala 
  • Previously with Kerala Blasters.

Forward 
Emil Benny (Wayanad)

  • Promoted to senior team from reserve team

January, 2021
Sat, 9 Jan, vs Chennai City - 7:00PM (H)
Thu, 14 Jan, vs  Minerva Punjab - 2:00PM (H)
Wed, 20 Jan, vs Aizawl FC - 2:00PM (A)
Mon, 25 Jan, vs NEROCA FC - 7:00PM (A)
Sat, 30 Jan vs Real Kashmir - 7:00PM (H)

February, 2021
Sat, 13 Feb, vs TRAU FC - 7:00PM (A)
Fri, 19 Feb, vs Indian Arrows - 2:00PM (H)
Tue, 23 Feb, vs Sudeva 4:00PM (A)

MAJOR HONOURS
(Both men and women)
Durand Cup - 2019 (Winners)
Kerala Premier League - 2018 (Winners)
Indian Women’s League -  2020 (Winners)
Boudousa Trophy - 2019 (Winners)
Independence Day Cup - 2019 (Winners)

Full SQUAD
Goalkeepers : CK Ubaid, Vigneshwaran Bhaskaran, PA Ajmal

Defenders: Alex Saji, Deepak Devrani, Mohammed Jasim, Jestin George, Naocha Singh, Zodingliana, Sebastian, Awal Mohammed

Midfielders: Muhammed Rashid, Shibil Muhammed, Muthu Irulandi Mayakkannan, Salman Kalliyath, Vincy Barretto, Thahir Zaman, MS Jithin

Forwards: Emil Benny, Dennis Antwi Agyare, Ronald Singh, Lalromawia, Philip Adjah

Foreign flavour
This season, Gokulam have brought in four new overseas players — Sharif Mukhammad (Afghanistan) and Ghanian internationals Mohammed Awal, Dennis Antwi Agyare and Philip Adjah. Sharif is a 30-year-old midfielder who has played for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala alongside Roberto Carlos, Willian, and Samuel Eto’o. Awal is a 32-year-old defender who has played for Ghana’s national team in the Africa Cup of Nations. Agyare, 27, is a striker who played for Malaysia, Sweden and Norway clubs. 

Eyes on the title
Italian tactician Vincenzo Alberto Annese replaced Fernando Varela as coach of the Gokulam team this season. The 36-year-old led the team to the quarterfinal at IFA shield. However, the I-League will be his first challenge. Before joining Gokulam, Annese coached the Belize national team and also has experience coaching clubs in Italy, Indonesia, Ghana, Palestine and Latvia.”I’m new in the system. Everybody is watching us because we have a strong team. When you win a title that was never won before, it counts  as amazing. All of India and Asia will speak about us,” he said.



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