How Annese turned Gokulam into a champion side

Indian football needs better coaches, says the Italian coach

Vincenzo Alberto Annese is only 36, but he already has an experience of more than a decade as a football coach. On Saturday at Kolkata, the Italian realised a dream: he won a national league.

What he has achieved as Gokulam Kerala’s coach is remarkable. He was appointed only last August and could join the team another two months later because of the lockdown.

Impressive CV

Within a matter of a few months, he has been able to transform Gokulam into a champion side. He has had coaching stints in countries like Italy, Ghana, Latvia, Armenia, Estonia and Palestine. His CV reads even more impressive after leading Gokulam to the I-League title.

“This is my greatest moment as a coach,” Annese told The Hindu 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 he 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.”

Focus on attack

He said 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 said he was confident Gokulam could comeback even when the team was trailing against TRAU with just 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 scored by Ghanain striker Denny Antwi, who proved a great pick by Annese.

“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 the midfield.”

Annese is also mighty impressed with the 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.

Annese, who had been tracking the ISL and the I-League even before his arrival here, said there was talent in Indian football. “But Indian football needs better coaches,” he said.

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

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