After 11 matches in the Indian Women's League (IWL) 2022, Gokulam Kerala clinched its second successive title without dropping a single point throughout the campaign. Gokulam, led by captain and goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan finished with 66 goals and conceded just four throughout the tournament.
Post the perfect campaign, Aditi Chauhan and defender Dalima Chhibber shared their thoughts on the season, the growing popularity of women’s football and the principles which have served Gokulam well over the seasons.
“The journey has been incredible. Defending the title was always on the agenda and despite having the strongest team on paper, we had to work as a team, especially in the final match [against Sethu FC]. It wasn’t our best match but ultimately the final score matters,” said Chauhan.
The IWL returned after a gap of two years with a fresh format with 12 teams. All teams played each other once and after that, the team with the highest points-tally, Gokulam, lifted the title. For a tournament, which initially started with six teams, the growth has been at a steady pace.
“The more matches you get, the more you develop. This season most teams had good depth and we had some great moments on the field. We have seen many good players coming up in women’s football now and I feel there is scope for a longer league in future,” said Chhibber.
Maintaining the focus
Being a successful team comes with its concerns and complacency is a vice that has been the reason for the downfall of many teams over the years. Chauhan, who led Gokulam to victory this season, said it was something they had to deal with as well.
“It is easy to get complacent but thankfully that wasn’t the case. This season, we had a lot of girls playing for the first time at this level. For many teams, scoring against us was the main challenge. Apart from us being professionals, it was their motivation that prevented us from taking anything for granted. Leading a team of such professionals was easy and I am glad we did not lose focus,” Chauhan said.
Discipline in defence
Scoring 66 goals in 11 matches is a remarkable achievement but conceding just four throughout the campaigns highlights the discipline Gokulam Kerala had in the league.
“Four goals is a small number but I still feel I could have done a bit better at times. But credit to the entire team. This team is made of champions. We have some of the best players from the national team and some good foreign players as well. Ashalata[Devi], who was commanding the backline, Dalima, and Ritu [Rani] all played a major role in maintaining our excellent defensive record,” said the skipper.
“As a team, we worked a lot on attacking together and defending together. As Aditi said, we functioned as a unit. Also, Aditi is very vocal and the constant communication helped us perform better” added Chhibber.
Despite Gokulam’s dominance, the title race went down to the wire and was decided on the very last day. Sethu FC, which kept threatening Gokulam’s title chances, lost to the Malabarians on the final day to concede the title. Such competition is good for the league and women’s football in general.
“This season the league showed how competitive it actually is. I won’t say that it was only the last game that gave us trouble but even the match against the Indian Arrows was one of the toughest we played. There were clubs Kickstart FC Sports Odisha and SSB against whom we had to work hard to get a result,” said Chhibber.
The winning mentality
Be it men’s or women's football, Gokulam Kerala has been a club of excellence. While its men's team became the first team in I-League history to successfully retain its title, the women's team also made the fans proud by defending their IWL title.
“We have knowledgeable management that supports women’s football. The transparency, and listening to player suggestions have worked to our advantage. The hard work and the vision that the club had from the beginning was important for the results we achieved,” said Chhiber when quizzed on what Gokulam’s secret to success was.
“There is a clear intention and target set by the club management. This is the same for the men’s and women’s teams. The management covers all the bases. We know the passion for football people have in Kerala. Our President is one of them and we have to acknowledge and give credit to him. The facilities and the team management have been excellent and we have no excuse not to give out 100 per cent,” added Chauhan.
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