After claiming the 2021-22 crown in fine fashion on the last day of the campaign, the new-look team will take the field in the upcoming season with a number of new players joining the club.
The Malabarians outfit will have Cameroonian Richard Towa taking over the managerial reins from Italian Vicenzo Alberto Annese, who led the club to the twin titles. The squad bears a fresh look with forwards Luka Majcen, Jourdain Fletcher, Jithin MS, midfielder Emil Benny, defenders Alex Saji and Muhammed Uvais, and goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar — all of whom played key roles in the team’s triumph last season — departing for other clubs.
Among the Indian players, the squad has seen the incoming of the likes of familiar names such as Arjun Jayaraj, Sreekuttan VS, Subha Ghosh, Saurabh Meher, and Bilal Khan. In the foreigners’ section, the club has roped in forwards Vladan Kordic and Auguste Somlaga, along with midfielders Everton Kaka and Juan Nellar. The Malabarians will play six of their home matches at the Payannad Stadium in Malappuram, while the other five will be played at the EMS Stadium in Kozhikode.
Ahead of the start of the new season of the I-League, coach Richard Towa spoke on various issues related to the season and their club’s preparations for the challenge of completing a hat-trick.
Here is what he said:
On his experience so far in India and the adaptation process:
It’s been a great experience in India so far. To be honest, life is absolutely different from where I come from, that is Germany and Cameroon, and the culture is quite different too. This is a good experience for me as I try to learn more about this country.
The environment here and around the club is great, and it is making the adaptation process easier. The club administration and team have made it very easy and it didn’t take long for me to understand how we have to work here. I feel I have adapted myself really fast and well.
On the new I-League season and how his preparations have been going: We have had enough time to prepare ourselves and I must say that the team is doing a great job. We are playing a lot of friendly games against both ISL and local teams as well, which has given us a great assessment of how things are going on and allowed us to establish the philosophy with which we want to play.
It was a little challenging in the beginning but now, the players understand exactly what they need to do and what is expected from them. Overall, the preparation has been good and we can be happy with the results we have achieved.
On how he approaches the challenges ahead of the double defending champion, which will also be the first time coaching in India: Yes, Gokulam Kerala are the double defending champion and we are determined to defend this title. We are working hard for it and know that it will not be easy. Every team will fight hard to stop us from making it three in a row and it will be a difficult responsibility. We are preparing for it vigourously and everybody at the club knows in their minds that we are ready to win the championship and defend our title.
On playing in front of the fans after two seasons: Playing in front of the fans is one of the most important motivations a player needs. We know that the fans expect more from me and the team, and we are preparing to make them happy with the type of football we want to play. We want to play attractive football and win.
On how important is the fans’ role: The most crucial thing for fans is to see the team play well and fight for the result, and we will be grateful if we can make the fans happy. We appeal to them to come and support us. We need them in the stands and we will make sure that we can make them really happy.
Q. Your team’s squad has undergone a number of changes as compared to the last season. What are your thoughts on the team and their potential style of play?
On the players that have departed the club: Many players from last season have departed the club and there have been a lot of changes. But, we will do our best to find the optimum players for each position and we are certain the squad has a lot of quality. They are doing well and have the potential to play and compete in the I-League. They are working hard for it.
We expect them to keep working like this as they have shown their capabilities in pre-season training and friendlies. That’s why we have confidence that we can defend this title with the quality of players we have. We have a lot of potential in the team and have to fight together as a unit.
On his expectations and targets in the coming season: The expectation from the players, staff, and fans is to be together and fight together, and then we can expect the results to follow. I hope for a good fighting spirit from my players on and off the field and I am confident that when we do it, we can achieve our objective of finishing first in the league.
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