Gokulam Kerala FC won the I-League title by beating TRAU FC and they became the first team from Kerala to win the I-League football title.
Gokulam Kerala FC beat TRAU FC 4-1 to lift the I-League title at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan stadium. In the process, they became the first team from Kerala to win the I-League. Despite having a rich footballing history and passionate fan following, Kerala had very little title success in the I-League .
The team, owned by entrepreneur Gokulam Gopalan, started four years ago. It promoted talented local players unlike their ISL counterpart, the Kerala Blasters. Italian head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese was very good with his foreign signings. Their former coach and current technical director Bino George recruited promising homegrown players.
The state of Kerala has won six Santhosh Trophy titles. It has produced the best footballers India has seen. IM Vijayan, Joe Paul Ancheri, Sharafali, V P Sathyan, Papachan to name a few. Despite such a rich history, success at top leagues like ISL and the I-League have been limited. The best performance was Kerala Blasters reaching the final of the ISL in 2014 and 2016.
Gokulam FC has been giving opportunities to so many local youngsters since its inception in 2017. They repaid the faith and played a crucial role in the title triumph. The likes of Emil Benny and Rashid scored crucial goals in the final match. Emil, from Wayanad, went on to win the hero of the match and Best Emerging Player Award.
Annese played with a 4-3-3 formation and emphasis was given on attacking play without compromising on the defense. As a result, the team scored maximum number of goals (31) in the championship and conceded just 17. Annese was spot on with his foreign recruits as well. Ghanian striker Denny Antwi scored 11 goals, just one short of TRAU FC’s Golden boot winner Bidyashagar Singh.
The title triumph is no doubt a shot on the arm for football-crazy Kerala. It will certainly encourage more youngsters to take up the sport and fill the football grounds in the state.