SPORT

Bumpy road ahead of Viva

Stan Rayan

KOCHI: As the Viva Kerala boys come out of their shabby dwelling at Udyogamandal, a few bumpy kilometres from Kochi, one realises that little has changed in Indian football.

The country’s first professional league, the I-League, is less than a week away but the comings and goings at Viva Kerala have still not stopped.

The team’s forwards — Ghana’s Awudu Adama and Nigeria’s Baba Tunde — arrived just last week and Viva, Southern India’s lone representative in the ten-team league which kicks off on November 24, is still looking for men to fill in key areas.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us. Unless you pay big bucks, you won’t have quality players,” admits the team’s chief coach A.M. Sreedharan frankly after watching the stocky Awudu in a friendly against the Ernakulam District youth side. Clearly, the seasoned coach is still not sure of his first eleven.

“We have to start everything afresh. We could have worked out things much better had we planned things nicely.”

Five months ago, when Viva unveiled its side for the new season, both Awudu and Baba did not figure in the team’s scheme of things. But with forward Alfred Nil Larbi Darku opting to go to the United States and midfielder Yaw Amankwa Mireku suffering an injury, the team was forced to change its plans in a big way.

Venue

Last week, Viva, the National League’s youngest side and probably its poorest, did not even know where it would be playing its home matches. With the ‘roofing’ work on at Kochi’s Nehru Stadium, Kozhikode will now be the venue.

“Yes, it will be Kozhikode, the AIFF observer inspected the ground on Saturday but you can’t put it officially. We are yet to get the letter confirming things,” says K.P. Sunny, the Kerala Football Association secretary, on Monday.

“If that’s the case, where is the home advantage,” asks Sreedharan. “We’ve not trained at Kozhikode and if we play Mohun Bagan or any of the NFL clubs there, both of us will just be playing at a neutral venue.”

Merry run

Three years ago, when some of Kochi’s top businessmen, with P. Bhaskaran and V.M. Liaquat Ali leading the group, started Viva with much fanfare, the club’s goal was to win the National League in four years. And despite the many trials and tribulations, including a change of coach, the Kochi club bounced back in fine fashion and qualified for the National League, the merry run from Third Division to the Pro League happening in about a year’s time.

The good work of Bhaskaran and Liaquat, who have brought Viva this far, needs to be appreciated but now is the time for Kerala to show how much it loves its football.

The State Government had promised Rs. 25 lakh to the club if it entered the National League but the money is yet to land on Viva’s laps. Some of the greats of Indian football, including I.M. Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri, have come from Kerala and given the State many magical moments in the sport. And a casual look at the national body AIFF’s scroll of honour will show that five of the ten ‘player of the year’ awards given since their inception have gone to Kerala-born stars.

A Kerala team has entered the National League after three long years and this time, there’s the Pro League glamour tag too. Viva has offered the State a new lifeline, a golden opportunity that should not be thrown away. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.

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