IFTWC recently caught up with Kerala United’s head coach Bino George in an exclusive interview where he spoke about the recently concluded I-League qualifiers, the upcoming Santosh Trophy tournament, and much more.
Kerala United, formerly known as Quartz FC was taken over by the United World Group, an international sports, and entertainment group that has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The group is headed by Abdullah bin Musaid Al Saud, a Saudi Prince and a businessman who also own Premier League side Sheffield United, Al-Hilal United, La Berrichonne de Châteauroux, and Beerschot.
Bino George, who is also a former football player himself, is the first AFC Pro license holder from the state of Kerala. He is also the current head coach for the Kerala Santhosh trophy team. The gaffer shared his thoughts with IFTWC on getting associated with Kerala United saying, “ I found the philosophy of United World Group positive. Helping the young talents to grow and also sending them for training, their plan for developing football in India through the club all attracted me and I mutually agreed to coach the club.”
The former Gokulam Kerala FC technical director also had several other offers from ISL and I-League sides. After coming back to the coaching role, he believes that the experience he gained during his stint as an assistant coach with teams like Viva Kerala in the I-League, made him believe that success can be achieved with this philosophy and also help give the youngsters a good chance to grow.
In a very short span of time, Kerala United has created a squad that can give a tough challenge to even ISL and I-League teams. Talking about the team-building process, Bino said, “It was a challenge to build such a team. We brought in experienced players like Arjun Jayaraj, Salman K and retained some players with good potential. Good scouting by the United World Group for the foreign players also made it easy.”
Bino George also shed some light on the training sessions of Kerala United and the difficulties that they faced during the Qualifiers, “We began our training back in August. The qualifiers is a very short journey. There was no home-away fixtures, all we got as a league was four matches, which we found difficult. Secondly, our foreign player, Francis had a delay in getting his visa done and he could only join the team after the first two matches of the tournament, after following the AIFF quarantine protocols.”
Bino also revealed that Kerala United faced mutliple COVID positive situations in the squad which made matters further difficult.
“Another issue we faced, which nobody knew, is that nine of our players tested positive for COVID-19 which included Mousoof Naizan, Akhil Praveen, Hrishi Dhath, Arjun Jayaraj, Christurajan, Nimshad, Athul Unnikrishnan, Beautin Anthony, and Salman. The matches began on the 5th(October), we left Kerala on the 15th (September)and they tested positive on the initial days itself. Since they tested positive, we couldn’t even train properly and there were not enough players to play 11 v 11. It was difficult for us because we played the matches with players who didn’t train due to this.”
He added, “But still, even as a new team we finished third in the group, the loss to Kenkre FC in the first match was unfortunate or else we would have reached the final round this time itself and put up a good show.”
Kerala United strengthened its goalkeeping department by bringing in Santhosh trophy-winning goalkeeper Midhun V, a move which had faced some restrictions from the State Bank previously. Talking about the transfer, Bino George said, “Midhun has played the Santhosh Trophy and amateur tournaments and he wanted to play at this level, which he told me. We had Satyajit Bordoloi with us but unfortunately, he is undergoing a ban by AIFF due to the registration of dual dates of birth.”
The gaffer also added that Midhun had to take a personal leave from the bank for playing the qualifiers, “Midhun took a personal leave from the bank for two months and if he wants to continue, he can take leave for the next two months “. Jijo Joseph was also linked with the club but couldn’t join the team. However Bino mentioned that he may join the team in the future.
He also spoke about the further aims of United this season, saying that the team wants to participate in different tournaments and strengthen their squad for the upcoming Kerala Premier League and will be targeting the I- League spot next season. On being asked about corporate entry to the higher leagues, Bino George exclaimed, “We will not try corporate entry and this is something both me and the management agree to. We will qualify by playing football, not by any other means “.
Moving on to the Kerala State Team, the coach shared his thoughts on the current Santhosh trophy team.
“I would like to thank the Kerala Football Association (KFA). It didn’t happen last season and this time Kerala is hosting it and we are looking forward to it with seriousness. A lot of comments have been made that the players who played senior district tournament have not been included. We are representing Kerala as a state, with players from Kerala. The only rule is that players playing in the ISL and I-league cannot play. Anyone else can play, and a player doesn’t need to play the senior district tournament. I am trying to build the best team with the best players.”
The Kerala Football Association recently announced corporate investments in which the federation agreed with Meerans Sports LLP & Scoreline Sports Pvt Ltd consortium for the commercial rights of KFA for the next twelve years. Bino George believes that the corporate influence on Kerala Football will be very beneficial for the state, “The recent developments are promising. More investments, more matches, more players and more coaches should come. We’ve seen a lot of teams trying for corporate entries even at the COVID times, which shows the growth of football. Professional football could help in the growth of football in this country “
The coach has also revealed that few players from the current Kerala United squad will be training at the sister clubs under the United World Group. The conglomerate is also planning to build academies for players, improve coaches’ education, and are planning to conduct refereeing classes as well. A residential academy is also on the wish-list of the investors. The ultimate aim, however, is to nurture and improve young players and give them opportunities at the international level.
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