KOCHI: The clash between Chennai City FC and Gokulam Kerala FC is a brewing southern rivalry. Both teams are fuelled by plenty of ambition and have recent successes to back their dreams.
While Chennai City scripted a fairytale win in the 2018-19 I-League season, Gokulam won the Durand Cup in 2019.
As the new I-League season is about to get underway, the two teams will be hoping to have a final say on where the trophy goes at the end of the season.
Vincenzo Alberto Annese, who arrived at Gokulam as the new head coach, has been making all the right noises.
"All the teams are looking at us because we have a good team," said a confident Annese ahead of their opening game.
The 36-year-old former Belize national team coach has made it clear that the target is to win the league, something no team from Kerala has been able to achieve in the past. Whether it was the National Football League, which later became the I-League, or the Indian Super League, teams from the state have not been able to crack the code and Annese would like to change that.
"It would certainly make a historical impact. When you win something in general and it was never done before in a certain part of India, it would be amazing," he observed.
Gokulam have strengthened their squad by roping in four new foreigners including Afghan midfielder Sharif Mukhammad and the Ghanian trio of Mohammed Awal, Dennis Antwi Agyare and Philip Adjah.
As for the Chennai outfit, it is a new start after their I-league winning coach Akbar Nawas left the club in October. The club chose to go with Satyasagara who was the assistant coach as his replacement.
A couple of seasons ago, it was the Spanish trio of Nestor Gordillo, Pedro Manzi and Roberto Eslava who lit up the league for Chennai. Now, they have turned to a few Serbian players to fill the void caused by their departure. They have brought in Demir Avdic, Vladimir Molerovic and Elvedin Skrijelj with high expectations.
Satyasagara wants to focus only on Saturday's game.
"Traditionally, Chennai City FC and Gokulam FC have played a lot of high-intensity matches. It is going to be a very interesting match. A positive result will give us a lot of boost in morale," he said.
One of the most noticeable things about these two clubs is how they give opportunities to local talent and develop players from their respective regions.
Gokulam have eleven players from Kerala in their squad and four of them have been promoted from the reserve team after they impressed the head coach.
At Chennai City, midfielder Charles Anandraj is one of the local players who is getting a similar opportunity and wants to seize it.
"Playing for Chennai City FC motivates me as it is my hometown. Gokulam are our arch-rivals, so we will leave no stone unturned to give our cent per cent and hopefully we will able to win," said Charles.