Gokulam Kerala FC have made waves this season. They became just the second team from Kerala after FC Kochi to win the Durand Cup, the oldest football tournament in Asia. Gokulam then went on to make a big impression in the recent Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh where they lost to Chittagong Abahani 2-3 after extra time in the semifinals.
Head coach Fernando Santiago Varela has been instrumental in the Malabarians' fine show. The Spaniard, who is in his second spell with the Kozhikode-based club, shared his thoughts in an email interview with Onmanorama ahead of the I-League. Gokulam had finished 10th in the 11-team I-League last season under Gift Raikhan after parting ways with Varela. Gokulam are gearing up for this edition of the I-League and Kerala's lone entry begin their campaign against NEROCA on November 30.
Gokulam fared well at the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup. What are the key takeaways from the tournament?
Teamwork is what I highlight the most. We have competed equally against teams of greater history and budget. The mentality of the players is what is making the team grow and we must continue to maintain this predisposition on their part.
No Kerala club has won the I-League or the ISL. Can Gokulam make history this time?
In both tournaments (Durand Cup and Sheikh Kamal) we demonstrated competitiveness. Our main objective will be to improve with each game and show that we want to be competitive and that the group is ready for great challenges.
What are the areas that Gokulam need to improve heading into the I-League?
We must always think that we have to improve. Humility and objectivity are fundamental values for us, which allow us to try to constantly improve.
Keeping the core of the team intact after a season has been a major problem facing ISL and I-League clubs. What are your suggestions to ensure a certain continuity of the players?
It's not an easy job to be able to choose players for a long term. However, it is important to know how to retain the player when the time requires and have the right players with quality. The players should also have a feeling of belonging.
Do you think it is time for Indian clubs to place emphasis on youth academies like the European clubs?
I believe Gokulam are doing a great job at the academy level in Kerala and are making a difference.
The ISL has replaced the I-League as the highest-level league in the country. Are you happy with that decision?
Gokulam's reserve players shone for Kerala in the preliminary round of the Santosh Trophy. Will some of them be considered for the senior team?
We will always look at the reserve team and the under-18 squad for future opportunities. The idea is to have a gradual progress and importance should be given on developing the players. We should prepare them properly and make them ready to face more important challenges.