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Big lessons for a young club

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STAR COACH T. K. Chathunni will be missed by his boys in Viva Kerala PHOTO: H. VIBHU
STAR COACH T. K. Chathunni will be missed by his boys in Viva Kerala PHOTO: H. VIBHU

Despite the absence of T. K. Chathunni, Viva Kerala hopes to emerge stronger

Two years ago, when T. K. Chathunni took over as the coach of Viva Kerala, one thought it would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. That it would be another challenge for the man who had worked magic with some of the top clubs in the country. He had been a top contender for the country's best coach award after the 1998 National Football League but now, when Chathunni speaks; one could feel the pain in his voice. "I had coached this club as my own, had planned to take it all the way to the National League. But when my contract ended on July 31, there was no word from the club management. I was left guessing," he said.Surely, Chathunni deserved better. He had coached Viva Kerala, the State's lone professional club, to the Kerala League title just three months ago. True, Viva enjoyed a bit of luck for the final against State Bank of Travancore ended in a 1-1 tie. The tiebreaker could not be taken because of crowd violence and when things were brought under control, bad light stopped the whole affair. And Viva was lucky with the toss.The club, formed by some of Kerala's leading businessmen, is just two years old but it is growing fast. And it had been in the news right from its inception for some stunning wins.

Not joining SBT

Chathunni was also in the news the last few days. The local media had been agog with stories that he was taking over as the coach of the State Bank of Travancore team. But he denied any such move. "I've sent a fax to SBT that I cannot take up the offer for personal reasons. I cannot leave my home (in Chalakudy) and move to Thiruvananthapuram," he explained. "I had received a few offers, from SBT and a very attractive one from Oil India. But I don't want to move out. Probably, I will do something nearer home, or go for short assignments to places like Malappuram," said the seasoned coach. "But I will not go back to Viva."Chathunni's absence will be a big loss for Viva Kerala. "He had a big reputation, we will miss his experience," said P. K. Rajeev, the team's assistant coach who is Chathunni's disciple.

A better team, a new sponsor

But the club management looks confident. "We are not worried or scared that Chathunni is not there, we are looking for a new coach. And we will do well this year," said P. Bhaskaran, the Viva Chairman. "We have a better team this time, only five or six remain from last season. We've already signed some good players, there are 18 now, and we will announce the details shortly. And we've almost finalised a sponsor, which should cover much of our budget," he revealed."We have also decided to retain our Nigerian striker Baba Thunde but we have said no to our other foreigner, Robert. We are searching for a good player, we may even go for a PIO (person of Indian origin)," said Mr. Bhaskaran. The new team will start its first session by the end of this month.When some of the State's leading businessmen, including members of the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry, decided to start a professional club in Kochi two years ago, they were very enthusiastic. Viva Kerala was opened with much fanfare. There was even talk of the club having its own ground. Money would not be a problem, was the common refrain. But after a year or so, doubts began to creep in. And many of the promises just remain that. Club officials were looking at instant results, a one-step to big time. They were not happy with the team finishing third in the State League in its maiden appearance, last year."I did my best with the stuff I got. I did a sincere job," Chathunni had said then. "But the club is not showing the same enthusiasm it showed at the opening."Chathunni had been with some of the biggest clubs in the country, including Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers and Kerala Police. "I was treated royally in Bengal and Goa," he said, as he took a few steps down memory lane."Here, there were times when I used to even water the ground. But I took it all sportingly, I treated the boys as my family," he said. Viva Kerala has miles to go. One hopes it picks some positive lessons from Chathunni's experience.STAN RAYAN

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