The Soccer City coming up in Kakkanad will make Josco FC the first professional club from Kerala to have its own ground, informs STAN RAYAN
He has coached some of the country's biggest clubs and has been in the race for the National League's best coach award but now, it's virtually back to the basics for T.K. Chathunni.
Chathunni, who guided Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan to the National League title a little more than a decade ago and worked up stunning results with Goa's star clubs Churchill Brothers, Dempo and Salgaocar, is now selling a dream to youngsters at the Josco Football Club.
“They have a good chance to play in the I-League in about two years,” says the seasoned coach as he watches Josco's young players go through their paces at the St. Albert's College Ground in Kaloor. “That is, if the Josco management maintains the same level of interest that it is now showing over the next few years.”
Despite the sport's huge popularity in Kerala, football clubs, even the ones which have played the National League, have been literally on the streets in the State for decades. None of them own a ground.
Home for football
But Tony Jose, the President of Josco FC who is also the MD and CEO of jewellery giant Josco Group, has ensured that his team has a home. He has bought a 23-acre site at Kakkanad and work is now on to get it into shape for top-quality football.
When completed, the ‘Soccer City', apart from a lovely green ground will include a club house, a modern gym and residential quarters for players.
“The ground will be ready by mid-June,” said Sunny Paul, the Josco FC manager. “The other facilities will be added on in stages.”
Having its own ground gives a club a huge advantage, says Chathunni, who had earlier coached FC Kochin, the country's first professional club, and Viva Kerala, now Southern India's lone representative in the I-League, the country's premier National League.
“Without our own ground, we cannot achieve anything,” says Chathunni. “Professional teams should have privacy… to try out strategies and for their regular workouts. If you see some of the country's biggest clubs, they have their own ground or have grounds on long lease.”
“Here, when we train, we have a bunch of kids playing on one side and a group of veterans on another side.”
The Josco boys have an average age of 22 and have been training together for just about nine months but, if recent results are any indication, they are already giving many big teams a run for their money.
The team defeated I-League side Pune FC, Bangalore's BEML and Kerala's top teams Malabar United, KSEB and Titanium in recent all-India tournaments. The team also entered the semifinals the Cochin Premier League, jolting defending champion Central Excise on the way.
No big names
There are no big names in the 20-member Josco team, no Santosh Trophy players, but Chathunni and assistant coach T.G. Purushothaman believe that at least 16 of them are good for the long road.
“I feel at least 15 or 16 from this side can be moulded into top quality players whom we can carry with us even when we play the I-League in about two or three years,” said the coach.
The team, led by former SBT guest player D. Sajin of Malappuram, has an all-Kerala flavour. The boys were picked after a selection camp held at Mannuthy in Thrissur last year where nearly 700 youngsters turned up. There are two foreigners, forward Onebi and midfielder Mathew – both Nigerians – in the team.
“Kerala's football talent is much superior to the players available in Bengal and Goa,” says Chathunni. “Many talented youngsters don't come to the fore because there very few tournaments and very few clubs, so they get very little exposure.”
The recent string of tournaments and the launch of the Travancore FC as a professional unit in Kollam are some positive signs, offering fresh hope for the sport.
With Kochi being home to some of Kerala's biggest clubs including Viva Kerala, Golden Threads and Malabar United, the fight for football supremacy will be a hot affair in the next few years. And with their new home, the Josco boys will hold a new edge.
With thoughts of house-hunting out of the way, they will be hunting for gold.