The Malabarians are the first team from the state to lift a national league title.
Saturday, March 27 was a historic day as far as football in the state of Kerala is concerned. It was on that day that Gokulam Kerala lifted the I-League 2020-21 title by beating TRAU FC in what was a ‘virtual final.’ Apart from them, even Churchill Brothers were in the race for the crown till the final matchday. In the end, a better head-to-head record against both teams and a fantastic 4-1 win against TRAU ensured the title for the Malabarians.
To put things into perspective, this is the first time that any team from Kerala has won a national league title. Sure, teams like Kerala Police, FC Cochin and Gokulam Kerala themselves had previously won the likes of the Federation Cup, Durand Cup and so on – but no Kerala-based club had managed to win either the I-League or its predecessor, the National Football League (NFL) till the Malabarians succeeded this time.
As it is usual in case of most title-winning teams, the whole team including head coach Vincenzo Annese played an important role in Gokulam Kerala’s I-League victory. However, a few of the players still managed to stand a cut above the rest and today, Khel Now takes a look at the five key stars of this GKFC side.
5. Vincy Barretto
Gokulam Kerala signed Vincy Barretto just before the league season started. A winger by trade, Barretto has previously featured for the likes of Dempo SC and FC Goa. He rose to prominence after excelling for the latter in the Goa Professional League (GPL) 2018-19 season. This term, he made it to GKFC’s I-League matchday squad in 14 matches and made 13 appearances in total. He also started for the team in their all-important final matchday clash against TRAU and recorded an assist against the same opposition, when they faced each other earlier this season.
A pacy forward, Barretto is known for his ability to get into key areas in the final third and create goalscoring chances. Although he hasn’t found the back of the net on his own lately, he has also scored some good goals so far in his career. Versatility is another plus point of the Goa-based player, as he has also proven his abilities to play as a striker, full-back or a wing-back if needed.
4. Sebastian Thangmuansang
Thangmuansang is a former FC Pune City youth product, who earned promotion to their senior team ahead of the 2017-18 season. Shortly afterward, he was loaned out to Chennai City where he earned some playing minutes in the I-League the same year. Following a return to his parent club in March 2018, he moved to NEROCA FC ahead of the 2018-19 season. Gokulam Kerala signed him a year later.
This season, the 22-year-old was one of the important sources of attack for GKFC. Known for his exceptional agility and speed, as he never shies away from an opportunity to overlap, he has also improved on the defensive side of things lately. Apart from that, Thangmuansang’s versatility to slot in as a left-back makes him an even greater asset.
3. Deepak Devrani
Wherever Devrani goes, the I-League trophy follows because this is the 28-year-old’s third league success at as many clubs! A rare achievement, but very deserving considering how he was truly the leader in defence for Annese’s men this season. Gokulam Kerala did not start the league as well as they would have liked, but gradually it was Devrani who started guiding the other defenders. He was very vocal about maintaining the shape at the back, which eventually became one of the strongest points of the Malabarians.
A journeyman, the versatile centre-back has played for Pailan Arrows, Sporting Clube de Goa, Pune City, Mohun Bagan, Minerva Punjab and TRAU. He was signed by GKFC last summer and made 14 appearances for them since, also recording four assists.
2. Dennis Antwi
Ghanaian footballers have always found interest among Indian fans and the same was the case with Dennis Antwi as he set foot in Kozhikode last summer to play for Gokulam Kerala. Antwi’s signing turned out to be one of the best pieces of business done by any I-League club this season, as he showed some exceptional goalscoring prowess in the league. Most of his goals came during the championship phase, which was when the Malabarians needed them the most.
The 28-year-old striker ended the campaign with 11 goals, which was the second-best this league season behind TRAU’s Bidyashagar Singh (12). His contributions, however, did not end there, as he also notched six assists.
1. Emil Benny
Everyone has termed Emil Benny as ‘the new kid on the block,’ but those familiar with Kerala football will know that the youngster isn’t exactly new.
The 20-year-old started his life as a footballer at the MSP Academy in Malappuram, Kerala, before joining the Kerala Blasters’ Reserves side in 2018. A year later, he moved to Gokulam Kerala and did well for their second string team in the 2019-20 season. That, in turn, earned him promotion to the senior side this summer – a move which worked wonders for both the team and the player.
Benny turned out to be a revelation in midfield, darting runs and ability to be at the right place at the right time in the final third made him a huge threat for oppositions throughout the season. He also recorded three goals and two assists.