The league newcomers started their season on a low but went on to prove themselves a worthy opponent.
Since Viva Kerala took their leave from India’s premier football league, the I-League in 2012, the football-loving state has failed to provide a representative in the top flight. After years, realizing the identity football has in the region, a Gokulam Group-owned football club Gokulam Kerala FC entered the I-League as their corporate bid was approved by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
A poetic feat nonetheless, the majority of the side’s members were from the home state itself. Although Gokulam under the guidance of head coach Bino George, didn’t win any silverware this season, they managed to do some worthwhile things, which earned them the nickname of ‘Giant Killers.’
In the I-League, Kerala finished their season IN seventh place. In the 18 matches they played in the league, the newcomers earned 21 points, a major share of which were added in the second half of the season.
In the Super Cup, they eased past coveted gaffer Avram Grant’s Northeast United in the qualifying fixture earlier in March. However, they were forced to bow out of the tournament as fellow southerners Bengaluru FC scored two goals to come back from a goal down to ensure victory.
Gokulam have really been able to mould the best out of many players and helped them showcase their talent. The dedication and work-rate they showed were impressive this season.
Fact Sheet for Indian Season 2017-18
Season Finished: 7th (I-League)
Games Played: 20
Drawn : 3
Win %: 35
Kerala had an eventful pre-season. The club participated in the AWES Cup and performed impressively throughout, but, went down at the final hurdle as they lost to Dempo Sports Club on penalties.
The team also played matches against Indian Super League (ISL) sides like FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC. They produced a valiant show against Kerala Blasters as they held them to a goalless draw. However, the newborn club struggled against other ISL sides.
The trio was kept the Gokulam fans hopeful throughout the season
Flop of the Season
Odafa Okolie – This I-League legend was brought into the squad in December. However, Okolie, who was once a poster-boy in Indian football, was well past his prime. He did nothing for them to turn things around and the results were negative. After featuring in a few games, The club released him and went on to sign Kisekka as his replacement.
Top 3 Performances
- Gokulam Kerala 2-1 East Bengal ( Match Report and Highlights)
- Gokulam Kerala 2-1 Mohun Bagan ( Match Report and Highlights)
- Gokulam Kerala 1-0 Minerva Punjab ( Match Report and Highlights)
Manager’s Report Card
To be very honest, if a neutral fan was asked to rate Bino George, he would rate him 8/10. What he had at his disposal were meagre funds and moderate players. But, effectively utilizing the resources at his disposable, he turned the discrepant squad into a congruous one.
After releasing much of its integral foreign crew amidst the season, Bino George did praiseworthy work revamping it. He replaced the old-lions like Kamo Bayi, Odafa, with more agile, athletic, energetic players like Henry Kisekka, Mudde Musa, Mahmood Al-Ajmi. Furthermore, his attacking tactics proved to be a game changer for the southerners. George never wanted his side to approach the game defensively, and the result was obvious and visible.
If Gokulam did not have Bino George at their helm, the Indian football fans wouldn’t have seen players like Bilal, Lakra, Irshad and Arjun improve on a massive scale. For them, George acted as torch-bearer, instilled confidence in their hearts and made them coveted properties of Indian Football.
Lessons To Be Learned
Despite earning the nickname Giant Killers, Gokulam Kerala failed to live up to the expectations in many games which they could have easily won. If they could improve, we would be glad to see a much more improved version.
Gokulam Kerala’s attacking front heavily banked upon Kisekka. While there are instances when the domestic players did well by contributing in the team’s win, they failed to register themselves as a reliable option for their side. The team needs to either recruit Indian players who have the knack to score goals whenever the team needs it or should help the players at their disposal improve.
Also, regulars at their team were youngsters. To cope up with the situation where intense experience requires, they should try to recruit some experienced players who could benefit the team as well as help the green beans learn.
Gokulam Kerala struggled to perform at the beginning of the season due to the injury of key players and the incompetence of their foreign recruitments. At first, Gokulam looked to sign foreign players who had impressed earlier in India. But, Kamo Bayi, Odafa, and others failed. So, they have to be aware of foreign recruits, and the criteria should not be fame but performance.
In terse, their performance this season is admirable. However, they still have areas where improvements are to be made. If rectified, they could become one of India’s biggest club in the near-future.