The team will be based in Malappuram, Kerala, a region that has craved top level football for some time now.
Kerala Blasters have struck a chord with football fans in Kerala, and now Gokulam Kerala FC will be keen to replicate it in their first ever I-League season. The state’s five-year hiatus from Indian football’s top division came to an end when the All India Football Federation gave the club from the football-obsessed Malappuram a direct entry for the 2017-18 edition.
“With a Super Cup proposed between the Indian Super League and I-League clubs, we target a top-four finish,” said head coach Bino George. The 2017 Kerala State Club Championship runners-up have strengthened their attacking unit by roping in former Aizawl FC striker Kamo Stephane Bayi. Bino, the first AFC Pro Licence holder from the state, is confident of bringing in more players before the start of the season.
Kerala Blasters received flak for signing only a handful of players from the state, but the 40-year-old refuses to lay the blame on the ISL club. “You have to understand there is a dearth of football players in Kerala. We don’t have enough professional football clubs and lack of tournaments have made it difficult to spot new talent. So, we are forced to sign players from other states.”
Gokulam have claimed some impressive results ever since their inception. The club tasted success at Biju Patnaik Trophy held in Odisha and went down to Dempo SC on penalties at the AWES Cup final. In the Kerala Premier League, the new I-League entrants thrashed the eventual champions, K.S.E.B, 4-0 in the group stage.
Football clubs from Kerala have a history of going into exile after bright beginnings. But Bino is confident about the longevity of the club. “The management is focused on improving basic infrastructure and building a solid base. I am confident Gokulam Kerala will not have the fate as Chirag United Kerala and FC Kochin.”
The former United SC coach is keen to see his team play attractive football but is aware of changing times in the match. “Ideally I would like to develop young players and build a squad capable of challenging for the title. But, with the success of Bengaluru FC and Aizawl in I-League, there is pressure. Once the team fails to produce results, the coach will get the sack first,” Bino added.
Seasoned player Sushanth Mathew will captain the squad, which includes former DSK Shivajians midfielder Irshad and Mohammed Rashid, who plied his trade with Kolkata’s United SC. The club claimed a creditable 0-0 draw against last year’s ISL runners-up Kerala Blasters in a friendly match held in Kochi recently.