If there is one team that perhaps feels burnt out more than any else over the results of last season, it has to be Gokulam Kerala FC. Champions who defended their title, the club faltered when the rewards were highest. To cap off their average, they also lost out on an AFC Cup spot, losing the AFC Club Playoffs at their home ground in Kozhikode to Odisha FC.
Perhaps it is for the best. The fewer distractions, the better focussed they may be on the task at hand. The club have appointed Domingo Oramas at the helm and the Spaniard may have to hit the ground running in his first match in charge.
Whether they win their opener or not, Gokulam Kerala have already won in October. How the management convinced former India international Anas Edathodika out of retirement, and back will remain shrouded in mystery, but his experience will definitely bolster a team that shipped in over a dozen goals last season—many at the end of the league.
“We’ve had a long pre-season, I’d say it was almost like two pre-seasons,” Domingo Oramas said. “The club’s ambitions are obviously to seek promotion, but we have to focus game by game to achieve it. We have a strong squad but I want them to not think about the long-term goal but go game by game.”
Their opponents are a debutant outfit, one that few know about but will definitely watch out for. Their signings have made sure of that. Big names like Peter Hartley, formerly of Jamshedpur FC, India internationals Jackichand Singh and Sumeet Passi, young prospects Beyong Kojum and Nikum Gyamar as well as stalwart Arindam Bhattacharya are not an easy pass by in the league.
The game will also see two Spanish coaches face off against each other, a fact Oramas did not miss when discussing the opponents.
Inter Kashi head coach Carlos Santamarina, meanwhile, has kept the dialogue within and outside the club to a minimum, focussing instead on the game at hand. “Starting against Gokulam is hard, but a lot of the players have tremendous experience and I believe in them and their ability to pull through.
“It’s a huge challenge when you start a team from zero, but I think we have built a strong squad with a lot of quality. We’ve been working hard for almost two months for the season, and we are very excited to get it kicking off.”