Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India], May 2 (ANI): For many years, Kerala and football have shared a special love affair to the point that domestic football in Kerala has become synonymous with raucous fanfare and local football stadiums being packed to the rafters each time a ‘home team’ at any level of the game steps out onto the pitch.
More importantly, this relationship has progressed beyond being limited to cultural identity for people in God’s Own Country. Over time, it has translated into the region asserting its dominance in the domestic football circuit.
Such has been the case in the Men’s field at the Khelo India University Games 2021, where 3 out of the 4 University teams that booked their place in the Semi-Final hailed from Kerala, with Punjab University being the exception.
Speaking about the reason behind Kerala’s dominance in domestic football, SAI High-Performance Center Coach and former Indian National Team physical trainer Pradip Datta said, “The grassroots program in Kerala is run by numerous private academies, beginning from age-specific groups as early as Under 8, and moving upwards. The programs are then supported by the Kerala State Government and the Sports Authority of India. Kerala is in fact the only state where the Sports Authority of India works in proximity with the Kerala Football Association. Even the college football culture is vibrant there.”
“However, more than anything else, the biggest factor in recent times has been the Kerala Premier League, which is offering excellent exposure to the players and giving an impetus to university teams in Kerala. Even the three University teams that are here for KIUG 2021 are full with players who are playing in the Kerala Premier League and receiving regular match exposure,” he continued.
In the Final on Tuesday, friends will turn foes for all but 90 minutes as Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam takes on the University of Kerala.
Coaching the respective finalists are long time friends and professional football coaches Haary Binny (38) and Jithin (40). The pair met for the first time all the way back in 2007 when Binny got acquainted with Jithin as his student in college.
Speaking about the origins of their friendship, Binny, Head Coach of MG University, said, “I met Jithin for the first time in 2007, and have known him closely for the last 15 years. He has been like a mentor to me ever since.”
MG University have had an up and down the road to the Final, winning all except one of their matches a 5-0 defeat against Punjab University in the Group Stage. Speaking about their route to the Final, Binny said, “There is no easy opposition at this tournament as the teams that have come here had to make the Quarter Final in the All India University Games to qualify. All matches have been quite tight. We lost one match on our way to the Final, but we beat the University of Calicut in the Semi-Final, who were the All India University champions. That has given us a boost of confidence for the Final.”
On the other hand, University of Kerala Head Coach Jithin painted a picture of utmost professionalism even as he shared a table at lunch with his ‘rival’ from the opposition dugout for Tuesday’s final.
“Since the first time I met Haary, he has been an extremely hard-working guy. Since that day, he has gone on to achieve many laurels for himself and the betterment of domestic football in Kerala. I am sure that he will continue to do so in the future as well. He is deeply ingrained in football and has worked with so many experienced coaches in his career. In that sense, I anticipate a tough match against a tough opponent in tomorrow’s final. I believe Haary has an advantage as a Coach, so I must equip myself to prepare my team in the right manner and come at par with him for us to win the Gold Medal,” he said.
Despite knowing each other for a decade and a half, this will be the first time the pair will meet each other in a competitive setting. Whether the student comes out on top, or the mentor remains to be seen. What is assured is that even before a ball is kicked in the Final on the grounds at Jain University on Tuesday, Kerala has already booked a win in the bank. (ANI)