The 21-year-old made 10 appearances for NEROCA FC in the 2020-21 season.

I-League outfit Gokulam Kerala have completed the signing of defender Shoib Akhtar, Khel Now can confirm. The young defender has been roped in as a replacement to the likes of Deepak Devrani and Jestin George, who parted ways with the club at the end of the 2020-21 season.

“Gokulam Kerala have signed Shoib Akhtar from NEROCA FC. The club will also confirm the signing officially soon, with an announcement,” a source close to the development informed Khel Now.

Khel Now further understands that the Malabarians have signed the defender on a multi-year deal, which will keep him at the club beyond the upcoming season.

Hailing from Manipur, Akhtar began his professional career with SESA Football Academy in Goa. He initially played for their U-18 side before earning a promotion to the senior team in June 2019.

He went on to represent them in the 2019-20 Goa Pro League, which was later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In January 2021, just prior to I-League 2020-21, the 21-year-old joined NEROCA FC. He registered eight starts and two substitute appearances for the Orange Brigade in the league.

Despite NEROCA’s underwhelming results, Akhtar’s promising performance in the backline stood out. A centre-back by trade, the youngster has also proved that he can be of equal quality as a full-back.

Gokulam Kerala’s pre-season preparations

After winning the I-League title in the 2020-21 season, Gokulam Kerala haved faced trouble in the form of an exodus of players and staff. Technical Director Bino George left the club, along with several key players such as Ubaid CK, Deepak Devrani, Jestin George, Sebastian Thangmuansang, Naocha Singh, Shibil Mohammed, Lalromawia and others.

The Malabarians are actively completing new signings to replace the departing stars, while also holding talks to extend the contracts of remaining key members of their squad. Head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese and midfielder Sharif Mukhammad have already signed new deals. Muhammed Rafi, Muhammed Uvais, Krishnananda Singh, Deepak Singh and Rakshit Dagar are the confirmed new arrivals in the team so far.

A very busy schedule awaits the Kozhikode-based club in the 2021-22 season as their men’s teams will feature in the I-League, AFC Cup, Durand Cup and Kerala Premier League (KPL).

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