Kerala is one of those destinations in India where any footballer would want to play, if provided the opportunity. The passion for the game here is unthinkable. Despite being one of the smaller states in the country, one simply cannot believe watching the scores of people turning up for football matches.
Gokulam Kerala and Kerala Blasters are two of the biggest clubs from the state which play in the top flight Indian leagues- I-League and Indian Super League (ISL), respectively.
Both clubs have a huge fan base and their average attendance during home games is not less than 23,000 – which is quite remarkable. However, if comparison is to be made between them, there have been some discrepancies whereas some pretty interesting similarities too, with respect to their facts and figures.
I-League: Gokulam FC continue to impress
Gokulam – which was founded in 2017, look pretty strong after making their debut in the I-League top division last season as they already stand 3rd in the table having played five games. On the other hand, ISL franchise Kerala Blasters are lowly ranked 7th in the league table after having a bad start to the season.
However, it would be too early to judge the teams at this stage as out of their five games, the Malabarians have played four at their home ground, EMS Stadium in Kozhikode.
Also the one game they played at an away ground, they drew 1-1 with Neroca FC at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal. So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Malabarians are yet to be tested on a different pitch. But one must still appreciate the side as they just managed to eke out a win against reigning champions Minerva Punjab and also hold Mohun Bagan – one of the most decorated clubs in the country, considering the fact that it is just their second season after establishment.
Antonio German, S Rajesh, Gani Nigam and Abhishek Das have been the top performers at the club this season. While the first three have combined to score five goals amongst them, Das – a natural right back, has been a standout performer for the Malabarians uptill now. Suhair VP and Arjun Jayaraj, too, are the key players in Bino George’s side.
What is satisfying to know is that the Indian contingent has held the squad up together unlike some of the other teams in the league which are over dependent on their foreign players.
George has shown faith in many youngsters and has provided a lot of opportunities for young talents like Suhair VP, Gani Nigam and of course Bodo Baoringdao, who is India’s youngest player in history and currently out on loan from Chennaiyin. Thus, the future of the club seems to be in the right hands and if ever the two leagues are merged in the near future, these talents will hold as strong candidates for the national team selection given they will get more recognition.
ISL: Blasters not so lucky
Meanwhile, David James’ Blasters, who finished 6th last season have yet again brought disappointment to their fans with their lowkey performances. The Englishman, who has previously played as goalkeeper for top clubs like Liverpool, Manchester City and West Ham United in the Premier League, started as a player at the Indian club and eventually went on to become their head coach in the following season. Under his reign, the team finished as runners-up in the competition twice.
However, since the past season, the Yellow Tuskers are struggling in the league. Much to James’ disappointment this season, the team have went on to squander their lead in several games and eventually lost the games. For instance, they recently lost out to NorthEast United even though having found a lead in the 73rd minute as the Highlanders scored two injury time goals to win all the three points.
One might wonder why the team is not getting results despite having several top class players in the squad. Apart from Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Matej Poplatnik, Nikola Krcmarevic and few others, James is blessed to have superb young talents like Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Mohammad Rakip and Prasanth Karuthadathkuni in the team.
While some would blame the wrongful team selection that has cost them the games, some rather intriguing trends suggest that there is something more to it which, interestingly, even their I-League counterparts are experiencing too. The coaches of both teams are yet to find a definite suitable formation for their teams.
Even though Gokulam have somehow got the good results, it isn’t much convincing to see them try out three different formations in just 5 games. He started the season with a 4-2-3-1 system against Mohun Bagan but then shifted to a flat 4-3-3 against Neroca. Shifting back to 4-2-3-1, Gokulam lost a game to Chennai City. However, in the past couple of games, Bino George has adopted a new 4-4-2 system with Suhair VP and either of Rajesh or German as the forwards. Gokulam look to have finally found a suitable system as they have won both the games since its adoption.
But Blasters have not been as lucky as Gokulam. They too have tried out different formation sets while playing five times in a 4-1-4-1 system. James also went for a 4-2-3-1 formation against Mumbai City with Matej Poplatnik at the number 9 role. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and in the following game, the Blasters the 4-1-4-1 system returned. However, just when the team looked to have been settling in it, James came up with a totally different 3-5-2 strategy against NorthEast United. Considering the Highlanders have been in top form this season, James thought of winning the game in the midfield and he remarkably did so until the last 15 minutes.
This shows how both Gokulam and Blasters have had tryouts with different formation systems but sometimes it is difficult for players to play constantly in different roles. Yet that is the decision, the coaches will have to make.
When it comes to goal ratio, the Malabarians show a positive trend while the Blasters have conceded 12 goals until now, 2 more than they have scored. Thus, in almost every statistical aspect, Gokulam look much like a better side compared to their ISL counterparts. It is quite remarkable how they have managed to achieve the feat considering the fact that the club was established just last year.