I-league Champions – Gokulam Kerala FC
AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
VINCENZO ALBERTO ANNESE
Gokulam Kerala FC clinched their first-ever I-League title on 27th March 2021. In a very fashionable manner where Gokulam Kerala FC got the most Goals for of 31 and the highest goal difference of 14, Which pretty much encapsulates the style of play Gokulam Head coach promised for the Indian Football Fans. This title brings hope for the Malabarians that more titles and glory is on its way to shine Kerala Football with silverware. Despite being in the COVID Secure bubble the team managed to keep things together and worked as an unit in a very unusual season hit by COVID restrictions. ,Today we will talk with the Head Coach (‘il Capo’) of Gokulam Kerala FC side in an exclusive interview about how it all happened and some behind the scenes stories with him. Vincenzo Annese is an UEFA Pro License holder who has coached many teams across the globe from Italy, Latvia, Ghana, Palestine, Indonesia, Armenia U19 and more. Lets get into the questions with Vincenzo Annese.
- How do you feel being an I-league champion and leading Gokulam Kerala FC to their first-ever I-league Championship?
I feel so great because I made it historical for the club (winning the first title). I was the first coach of the club to win the title. Honestly, it is not very easy to be a champion in any league or anywhere all around the world. I feel proud about myself and of my players that we did this. Interestingly I didn’t sleep for two days before the final game against TRAU FC on 27th March, roughly had a sleep of one hour and also didn’t sleep that often for the next four days too. I’m very happy about this and one of the most emotional and the best days of my career and life because football is my life.
- How was life and football under COVID Secure bubble for you and the team?
It was great, it was amazing, we were spending all the time together and I used to tell my players that there is a TV show in Italy called the Big Brothers where some famous people stay like a family in a locked house like a bubble. So, similarly, we were in a bubble-like a family. I feel this was also one of the secrets for us in winning and that is what kept us apart from other teams. I think and hope that no other coming years will be like this year, But ultimately we were like one big family all our staff and players.
- Did the COVID secure bubble have any affect on any preparation for the season or any club training and Operations in any way?
No, It didn’t because we had a lot of time, the bubble helped us in some ways because our rooms were close to each other and I could show them any sort of movement or tactical discussions.
- What would be the one thing that made Gokulam the champions?
The tactical side, the organizational side. We were more organized than other teams, we attacked with all of our players, we scored with 10 different players. Everybody can score, so other teams, in general, depended on their 2 strikers/forwards like Churchill Brothers SC, RG Punjab FC, Real Kashmir, or even Mohammaden SC. We attacked with all our players, even the right-back can score, the Central midfielder can score and anybody can score. They can’t predict where the attack will come from.
- We all know about your work ethic and how important it is for you. Was that a crucial pillar of your success?
The same, we focused a lot on the tactical and technical data for each player. Each day was a different sort of training, we never did the same training usually, we changed our training all the time. This was definitely a quality addition skill for us.
- Which was the toughest match for you this season of I-league 2021?
Punjab FC, we won 4-3, we were losing 3-1 in the first half and we also missed a penalty, then we came back to win 4-3, it was an amazing game. We did very well, but even in the last game we were 1-0 down and we somehow managed to win 4-1. We always come back and we come back stronger.
- The club will play the AFC group stages now, what are your plans and goals for this tournament?
My goal is to pass the group stages and also step by step go forward and try to go and give the most we could as a team. The maximum we could go forward, we will go forward. This can be everything too (Upto Last Knockouts). We are new entrants in the cup, it is new for me also, but for sure we will be prepared for each game and the group stages will be very important for us. Then the door will open for us which will be very good.
- Overall what do you feel about Indian Football and Indian Footballers? Any crucial observations?
Indian Football (and Indian Footballers) need good coaching because I noted in ISL and in I-league many coaches speak about tactical points. They must first think of technical skills that they miss and then physically and then we could talk about tactical aspects. I know in ISL commentators speak about the tactical side of the game quite often – 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or attacking phase, defensive phase. But they need to talk more about the technical part of the game which is very important. We need more coaches who will work on technical and fundamentals also from a young age.
- How have family, friends, and relatives reacted to your win back in your hometown on Molfetta?
I was born in Bisceglie but I stay in Molfetta. I haven’t been to Italy for a long time now. I worked in many countries, so I go only one week in Molfetta, they have made a (trophy) of me, and everybody loves me there. I’m like a symbol in my city and also in Puglia. I’m so happy about this too. Everybody knows me now more than before, even young kids know me, it’s a pleasure.
- You’ve come a long way since your coaching career started from Italy to now in India. More than 12 years journey, Any insight on which were the toughest times for you?
Every Country gave me a different blues. Each country gave me something new to learn as a coach and every country improved my skills as a coach. And obviously, I would like to improve each year as a coach. There are coaches who are 65 years old and haven’t won much yet. But each country gave me an advice. Even before I was the head coach of the Belize National Team and Armenia U19 team it was all different learning. This makes me proud of myself, my career, and this trophy.
- Do you have any message for the fans that supported you from their homes during the entire season?
Thank you to everyone who supported us from their homes, keep following me on my football journey – From Italy to India and forward. To all Gokulam Fans who patiently saw their team win this title. Keep following me on Instagram – I usually write back to messages.
- Any future goals or plans for you in football?
It would be participation in the Asian Cup (AFC Cup), it would be good for me also as I never participated in Asian Cup ever before. I hope to compete very well with Gokulam in the next AFC Cup at the maximum level that I can.
Signing Off – Vincenzo Annese
All the images used in this article belong to Gokulam Kerala FC and have been used for better illustrations.