How Annese took Gokulam Kerala to the I League crown

Vincenzo Annese, who was appointed as Gokulam Kerala coach last August, has taken the team to the I League crown in his maiden season in Indian football.

Within a matter of a few months since taking over the coach's role, Annese has been able to transform Gokulam into a champion side.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Vincenzo Alberto Annese is only 36, but he already has an experience of over a decade as a football coach. The Italian realised a dream on Saturday in Kolkata: he won a national league.

What he has achieved as Gokulam Kerala’s coach is remarkable. He was appointed as the coach last August and was able top join the team only two months later because of the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Within a matter of a few months, he has transformed Gokulam into a champion side. He has earlier coached in Italy, Ghana, Latvia, Armenia, Estonia and Palestine and his CV appears even more impressive after his I-League triumph with Gokulam.

READ | Gokulam Kerala makes history, clinches I League title

“This is my greatest moment as a coach,” Annese told Sportstar here on Saturday. “For a coach, there is nothing like winning the league.”

He said he believed his team could do it, even before the league kicked off, but decided the strategy had to be changed. “I had done my research on Gokulam and Indian football in general before I came here,” he said. “I felt there is too much focus on defence and cleansheets in Indian football.”

Gokulam Kerala FC

Gokulam Kerala FC players celebrate winning the I League title on Saturday.   -  Special Arrangement



He wanted to change that. “Here most teams prefer the 4-4-2 system, but I have adopted 4-3-3 for Gokulam,” Annese said. “I ask my boys to think of attacking all the time, but I also ensure that my defenders are ready for counterattacks from our rivals.”

He continued that he was confident that Gokulam could comeback even when the team was trailing 0-1 against TRAU with a little more than 20 minutes left in the decider. “I had faith in my boys,” he said. “Of course I was delighted that we won the game 4-1; I love to see more goals.”

Gokulam ended up scoring 31 goals, the most in the 11-team league. Eleven of those goals were scored by Ghanain striker Denny Antwi, who proved to be a great pick by Annese.

Gokulam Kerala FC players celebrate during their 4-1 triumph over TRAU FC in The I-League on Saturday.



“He was superb and I thought striker Philip Adjah and defender Mohamed Awal (who are also from Ghana) too did very well,” he said. “And of course Sharif Mukhammad (from Afghanistan) was brilliant in midfield.”

ALSO READ | Remembered for one goal, but Aguero's consistency separates him from the rest

Annese is also mighty impressed with 20-year-old midfielder Emil Benny, who was named the Player of the Match against Churchill and Best Emerging Player. “He has a great future,” said the coach.

The Italian, who had been tracking the ISL and the I-League even before his arrival here, said there is no dearth of talent in Indian football. “But Indian football needs better coaches,” he added.

He certainly showed what a good coach to do a club that is only four years old.