A powerhouse of Indian football, Kerala had been sleeping for two decades and it was high time to revive the past, said Gokulam Kerala FC CEO Ashok Kumar after his team clinched their maiden I-League title. Gokulam Kerala FC on Saturday lifted the trophy after coming back from a goal down to beat TRAU 4-1 in the final match of the season in Kolkata.
The newly-crowned champions were accorded a rousing reception when they arrived with the coveted I-League trophy at the Calicut International Airport here on Monday. "Kerala has been a powerhouse in Indian football. But it had been sleeping for two decades. We have had great teams like Kerala Police and FC Kochi in the past, but it was high time for us to revive that past," Kumar was quoted as saying in an AIFF release.
"We have proved that our state is as much a powerhouse as the likes of Goa, West Bengal, Manipur, Mizoram or Meghalaya." The I-League came to a grandstand finish on March 27, when three teams were tied on same points at the top of the table -- Gokulam Kerala, Churchill Brothers and TRAU.
Despite the win over TRAU, Gokulam finished on same points with Churchill, who also picked up three points in their final match of the season against RoundGlass Punjab. However, Gokulam were crowned champions by virtue of a better head-to-head record. It has not been an easy season for the Malabarians, who had stumbled along their way in Phase I of the I-League, before finally picking up the pace in Phase II, where they grabbed 16 points from a possible 18, to finish on top.
"It was always a building process for us. If you look at our squad, we have plenty of local players who have long contracts. It's all about working with them, even when they make mistakes and keep on improving as a team, as a family," said Technical Director Bino George. "Our technical staff constantly worked on the mistakes that we made in Phase I, so that by the time we were in Phase II, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine.
We want to grow football both in Kerala and in India." With their maiden I-League win, Gokulam Kerala have now sealed direct qualification for the 2022 AFC Cup group stage, subject to fulfilling AFC Club Licensing criteria.