The Italian spoke about a variety of topics ahead of GKFC’s AFC Cup debut.

Gokulam Kerala kick off their AFC Cup 2022 group stages with a challenging test against fellow Indian side ATK Mohun Bagan. The reigning I-League champions head into the game brimming in confidence after their successful league campaign, but head coach Vincenzo Alberto knows they need to play at a higher level to excel in the continental competition.

Ahead of their tournament opener against ATKMB, the Gokulam Kerala head coach shared his thoughts on the competition, match against the Mariners and more.

Difficulty in transition from one competition to another

Vincenzo Alberto spoke about how difficult it is for him and his side to transition from winning the I-League to playing in the AFC Cup in the span of only 3-4 days. He said: “It’s not that easy for any coach to go from one competition to preparing for another competition in such a short period.

“But the mood is so good and the I-League has energized us to go forward. I can say that this game will be a different level of football that we play against Mohun Bagan. They are a great team who have amazing players. We need to change our view in our performance levels. All the Indian players from the ATKMB team have a national team background. It’ll be a different pace in terms of playing style.

“Also we’ll play with a different ball, we started testing with the ball only a few days ago. I can see that the AFC Cup match ball is heavier and will be more effective in set-pieces. It’s a big difference for us to play with another ball, but in football, there is no excuse. It’s pivotal to control the ball, but for sure the level and speed of the game will be at a totally different level than the last game we played in the I-League,” he added.

Mood in dressing room

When asked about the mood in the dressing room before the game, Vincenzo Alberto explained: “The mood in the camp is good because we won the league in consecutive years. This will help us compete in the AFC Cup next year as well and it’s a proud thing for all Kerala football fans that Kerala teams performed so well in all the Indian competitions.

Kerala Blasters were a finalist in the ISL and I’m very proud of Gokulam Kerala to win the tournament for the second successive season. It’s a proud thing for myself to win the league for two successive years, but it’s also on the boys to achieve that. Only a few changes happened from last season and I hope we can continue bringing joy to the supporters,” he added.

Drastic change in approach?

The Italian gaffer was questioned on whether he plans to drastically change his system against ATKMB and if that can improve the possibility of his side winning the game. He opined: “In terms of possibility, we will have 11 players on the pitch and everything is possible in football. We know the quality of players at ATKMB, but I also know the quality of my players. The pressure is on me to improve them with every training session.

“We’ll play against a big opponent, but that doesn’t mean we’ll refuse to play to our strengths. We have plans to press, plans to attack and plans to defend. We know our strengths and we will play to win the game. In many competitions in which Gokulam Kerala have been part of in the last two years, we have been able to adapt our system to excel in it. It’ll be an interesting game tomorrow,” he added.

Thoughts on first official match against ISL team

When asked about how he perceives Gokulam Kerala’s first-ever match against an ISL team, Vincenzo Alberto said: “Personally I’m a bit emotional because in terms of salary maybe one ATKMB player can buy 20 times anything related to Gokulam, including myself. The ISL has made a big impact in football in India. But you don’t win games based on your pay. I was an ex-national team player and I know how the feeling is to play such big games.

“I’m really involved in the game, in terms of commitment and respect for the opposition. They have players that play at a higher level and are mainly national team players. It’s an amazing feeling to play against these players, respect them totally. But we will not make it easy for ATKMB,” he further explained.

Playing in Kolkata

Gokulam Kerala played their entire I-League campaign in Kolkata and its nearby vicinity, while ATK Mohun Bagan played their league campaign in Goa. When asked about how he perceives that possible advantage, the Italian said: “I think tomorrow in front of 35,000-45,000 people who will come to watch the game, the supporters will mainly support the local team from Kolkata. ATKMB and East Bengal are the top clubs in Kolkata’s football scene.

“It’ll be interesting to play in front of such supporters. It’ll be similar to our I-League decider against Mohammedan when they had a lot of fans to cheer them on. I expect tomorrow will have more fans, and more people will only give us positive vibes, so I wish more come tomorrow,” the gaffer stated.

Motivation for the match

Finally, when questioned on whether it’ll be difficult to motivate his players for the upcoming game, Vincenzo Alberto explained: “We are very motivated and we are ready for the game. All our players are ready, they are emotional. Most of our players are playing in the AFC Cup for the first time, I think only our captain Sharif (Mukhammad) has played in this competition before.

“The rest will be playing in this competition for the first time. When you fight for the first time with one team in an official game against an ISL team, in a big competition in Asia against ATKMB – who want to progress past the group stages – we want a performance to remember.”

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