Time has been of the essence for Gokulam Kerala coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese ahead of the 2020-21 I-League season. He had been appointed back in August this year but has been with the entirety of his squad for barely over a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When the opportunity presented to play the IFA Shield, Annese jumped at it. Gokulam Kerala played three games before they lost 0-1 to Mohammedan Sporting in the quarter-finals.
"The full team has been together for almost one month now as the foreigners arrived around November 22 and 23. The IFA Shield helped us because we understand our strengths and weaknesses," said Annese during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
"We have not played for such a long time so playing a competition was very important for us. When they asked us if we want to play there, I straight away said yes because I want to see my players play. I believe that the more games they play the more they will improve and that will help prepare for the league. We have some more time to prepare and I am very happy, we have come a long way since starting our preparations. We are understanding what can be a good system for us and we are just looking to improve day by day."
Annese said more time with his players would have bee ideal but admitted that it is the same for all teams.
"Everyone has some problem or the other starting the season this year, even the organisers, not just the clubs. We also have a new coach here so there is a new philosophy for players to adjust to so, of course, I would like more months," Annese said.
"But that is there for every coach and club. We selected players beforehand and so far I am happy with the job we have done. In the friendlies we have played so far I can see that players have started to understand my philosophy. They are also developing well physically which is important considering many have not played for seven-eight months."
As for the league, the new Goulam Kerala coach feels it will be a very competitive affair.
“I have watched all the matches of the I-League in the last 2-3 seasons. Each team is capable of beating any other team in the league and all the teams are highly competitive. A lot of the teams are good and we respect everyone but we are focused on our preparation. We have been training hard and are improving each day, and hope to do well in the tournament.”
New singing in defence, Deepak Devrani, echoed his coach's point, adding that it will all be decided on the field and no history would matter for any club.
“In the last few years, the I-League has been won by so many different teams and one cannot predict who will win this time around as well. This league can never be easy and we cannot think that we are good on paper and can win. We have to prove ourselves on the field. I have only one aim – to win the league,” Devrani said.
I-League 20202-1 will be played in 3 stadiums - the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium, the Kalyani Municipal Stadium and the Kishore Bharati Krirangan - without fans.
The 28-year-old Devrani, who has won the I-League with Mohun Bagan and Minerva Punjab, said Gokulam Kerala's goal is to win it again this year.
“I saw the potential this club has and so, I signed for them. From the first day, everyone at the club – from the ball boys to the owner – has been positive and been talking only about the I-League. Our main aim is to prepare for it and we are all giving our 100 per cent in training. It’s about all the players in the team and everyone is doing their best,” Devrani added.
Annese was full of praise for the Gokulam Kerala fans and thanked them for the support.
“All the supporters of Gokulam Kerala are amazing. I am really happy that we have so many supporters and I understand that they will be disappointed that they will not be able to watch us play in the stadium. However, I know that they will be following us via social media and they can show their love and support from far.”
“We have created a terrific group and we have a lot of young, talented players. I am pleased with the team, and I am confident that the fans are happy as well,” he added.
Gokulam Kerala FC will take on Chennai City FC in their opening match of I-League 2020-21 on January 9, 2021.