Kozhikode: Gokulam FC, Kerala’s sole representatives in the I-League, are looking to end their campaign on a high when they take on a formidable Mohun Bagan in their final league assignment here on Thursday.
After a string of poor performances in the initial phase of the league, in which they failed to win a single home match, Gokulam regrouped and bounced back in the latter half, posting back-to-back victories against Kolkata heavyweights Bagan and East Bengal before making short work of the current table-toppers Minerva Punjab. Gokulam are now placed seventh on the 10-team table with 20 points.
Ahead of the team’s final match against Bagan, Gokulam FC’s head coach Bino George talks about his team’s performance in their debut season and plans for the future.
Excerpts from the interview:
Gokulam are getting ready for their final I-league match this season. Looking back, are you satisfied with the team’s performance?
It has been a memorable journey for each member of the squad as well as me as the coach. We were able to learn lessons from mistakes and grow stronger. It was also my re-entry to the I-League. As the League draws to a close, I feel quite confident. I hope in two years’ time, this team could emerge as a strong contender for the title.
Where did the team err in in the initial phase?
The team was depleted by the injuries to some of the key foreign players. Those who were brought in to replace them did not live up to the expectations. All these factors contributed to the team’s poor conversion rate. The strikers could not capitalise on the passes and crosses from the middle. If you take a closer look at the losses suffered by Gokulam, it will be palpable that some silly mistakes cost the team dear. In all the matches, Gokulam have performed well.
What were the main reasons for the team’s spectacular comeback?
Signing of three players proved critical in turning around the team's fortunes. They were Bahraini midfielder Mahmood Ahmed Al Ajmi, Ugandans Henry Kisekka and Musa Mudde. We were also able to experiment with new formations and tactics. The spotlight was put on the importance of individual contributions. All these measures helped players switch on and increase their performance and confidence.
How do you rate the Keralites in the squad?
There has been a huge improvement in their performance. Players like Arjun Jayaraj, K Salman, Mohammed Rashid, and Mohammed Irshad have become an integral part of the team. I feel the team should have more home-grown players. They should keep in mind that if they do not perform well, somebody else would be ready to take their place. For the next season, we have already signed three local players. Two of them are from Kozhikode, while the other hails from Thiruvananthapuram.
What are your plans for the next season?
There is no doubt that Gokulam is a team for the future. We need to strengthen our foundation. It is important to identify shortfalls in each position and fix them. I have already spoken to the management about it. We also need to find more new players, including local ones, for the next season.