Home Ground: EMS Stadium, Kozhikode
Head Coach: Binu George
The 12th Season of I-League is set to kickstart from October 26 as Chennai FC face Indian Arrows at Coimbatore. The giant-killers from last season, Gokulam Kerala FC are all set to start the season afresh having finished 7th in the league with 21 points in their debut season.
Gokulam defeated heavyweights East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and champions Minerva Punjab last season which ensured a strong finish. They beat NorthEast United in Hero Super Cup qualifiers and fought hard in a 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Bengaluru FC after leading 1-0 for the first 60 minutes.
Gokulam played in the AWES Cup as part of pre-season preparations at Goa. They played Sporting Goa, Sesa FC, and ONGC in the tournament with a win and a draw. But they could not qualify for the semi-finals as ONGC and Sporting qualified from the group with the latter eventually winning the tournament.
Gokulam Kerala FC squad
Gokulam managed to keep the foreign players who played the important roles last season as well as brought in some talented Indian players to their fold. Gokulam signed local boy Shibin Raj from Mohun Bagan and Arnab Das Sharma from Delhi Dynamos to strengthen the goalkeeping department.
They managed to keep foreign players such as Daniel Addo and Musa Mudde, but couldn't keep last season's star Henry Kisekka as the Ugandan left for Mohun Bagan. However, they acquired the service of former Kerala Blasters player Antonio German.
As of now, the team has 15 local players in the team with retention of Ashik Usman, Muhammed Rashid, Arjun Jayaraj and signing VP Suhair and S Rajesh from East Bengal and Railways respectively.
Full Squad: Arnab Das Sharma, Shibin Raj, P.A. Ajmal, Daniel Addo, Fabricio Esten Ortiz, Monotosh Chaklader, Wugngayam Muirang, Jestin George, Abhishek Das, Deepak, Jishnu Balakrishnan, Mudde Musa, Muhammed Rashid, Arjun Jayaraj, Mayakannan, Bijesh Balan, S. Rajesh, V.P. Suhair, Rohit Mirza, Pritam Singh, Bodo, K. Salman, Antonio German, Gani Ahammed Nigam, Usman Ashik, Evgeniy Kochnev, Shahbas Saleel, Guilherme Castro and P.A. Nasar.
Gokulam Kerala FC coach
There was a lot of controversies as the newly appointed coach for the season, Fernando Santiago Valera left the club mid-September. Valera, who took charge in March guided the team to the title in Kerala Premier League but it seems that the management was not pleased with the team's performance in the preseason.
The head-coach last season Binu George, who was later appointed the Sporting Director is again appointed the head coach for the upcoming season after the Spaniard's departure.
With Binu George taking back the head coach role from Valera, within a short period of time he has to re-impose his tactics and philosophy on the team. We can expect some formation changes for the first few games as he finds the right combination.
Arnab Das is expected to be the first choice goalkeeper. Oritz, Deepak, Thiago and Jishnu will form the backline. The midfield trio will consist of Musa, Bijesh and Rashid.
Suhair will lead the line with Abhishek and Nasar attacking from the wings.
After defeating many heavyweights in their debut season, Gokulam Kerala FC has acquired a nickname "Giant Killers". With a much-improved squad from last season and a familiar coach in Binu George, GKFC should be looking to qualify for AFC Cup.
Our Verdict: Top 4 finish