Eagles FC are Kerala’s representative in the Federation Cup and expectations are high from them. Ahead of their opening fixture, here is a look at the club, the players and their performances in state championships

Eagles FC Kerala have a huge squad at their disposal for Federation Cup.

Eagles FC Kerala have a huge squad at their disposal for Federation Cup.

Eagles FC’s partnership with UK based Reading FC was keenly observed by the media for varying reasons. Eagles FC bagged the lucrative partnership with the help of their powerful administrators. The upcoming players in Eagles FC Kerala’s setup were set to benefit from this tie-up with Reading FC, as it presented an opportunity for the youngsters to train with the former Premier League club.

Even though Eagles FC participated in last year’s I-League second division, their performances weren’t impressive and as a result they made a tame exit from the group stages. Reading’s choice was interesting as they wanted Eagles to participate in I-League by 2014/15 season. It will be intriguing to see how they will bridge the gap in quality.

There is a huge gulf in the standards of top division Indian Football clubs and the rest. Top players earn big money while the budding footballers struggle to meet two ends of their life. Upcoming clubs will find it hard to get good players unless their scouting system and networks fetch them real talents. Eagles FC Kerala is not even considered as the best in the state. Teams like SBT, Viva Kerala etc. failed to get going in the national stage earlier. India’s first professional club, FC Kochin and Viva Kerala have disappeared from the football map all together, making it more difficult for Eagles FC Kerala. In such a scenario, it is going to be a tough ask for the Eagles officials to make them a team to watch out for in the national stage.

Eagles FC Academy League

Grassroots development is the future of Indian Football as Pune FC’s professionalism has shown. Clubs like Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim are also going the professional way while the recent success of Bengaluru FC also shows there are takers for Indian Football. The long term success of a football club depends on its academy. Major clubs in world football have a successful youth academy setup which aids by creating a supply of top players from time to time. Eagles FC Kerala is also trying to follow the same model by starting the Eagles FC Academy League. The academy league is an U-15 affair with 140 teams participating in 14 districts. This league will help them to identify talented players who can be roped into the academy.

In a state like Kerala where certain areas breathe football, there will be plenty of local talents. Catching and grooming them young will have longer team benefits. It was not so long ago when the state had two of the best players in the country I. M. Vijayan and Joe Paul Anchery, making waves in national and international stage. With a proper academy setup and system, Eagles FC Kerala can count on the long term benefits as well. This is the area where FC Kochin failed and Pune FC made amends. Eagles FC Kerala can emulate Pune FC and other professional clubs, if they can line up the passionate football lovers in Kerala behind them.

Performances in State Championship

The 39th edition of Kerala State Football championship was held in December 2013 while the 40th Edition has just concluded in Vadakkancherry, Trichur. Back to back tournaments have given Eagles a chance to integrate their new recruits into the team.

Eagles FC was strengthened by 13 IMG-R players on loan. They have prioritized I-League second division this season and are utilizing the State Championships and Federation Cup as an opportunity to warm up for their main target. 8 IMG-R players joined the Eagles team at the start of December in which the likes of Nadongh Bhutia, Biswajit Saha, Jagroop Singh, Bisheshwor Singh, Bijendra Rai are quietly making an impact on the team. In the 39th State Championships, Eagles had scored 8 goals in the Pre-Quarter finals match to raise the expectations but their joy was short lived as they were knocked out in the Semi Finals by Kerala Police in penalty shoot outs.

Eagles FC Kerala's hopes lies with Bijendra Rai and other youngsters

Eagles FC Kerala’s hopes lies with Bijendra Rai and other youngsters

Failing to win the state championship at Meenangadi was a setback for the Eagles; they tried to make amends in the 40th edition at Vadakkancherry. In early January they added 5 more IMG-R players including India international Sushil Kumar Singh which strengthened the team further. Eagles got the better of Central Excise through tie-breakers in quarterfinals and defeated Travancore Titanium by two goals in semi final but Eagles lost in the final of state championship against Kerala Police on penalty shoot-outs for the second time in a row.  IMG-R contracted player Bijendra Rai was adjudged as the best player in the recently concluded Kerala State Championship. The Sikkim born youngster has made a smooth transition from the role of a striker to that of a midfielder/winger and will be one of the players to watch out for in future. State Championship results shows that Eagles aren’t the best in Kerala and it remains to be seen how they will fare against the best in the country.

Federation Cup and Expectations

Stanley Rozario considered the state championship as a distraction and opined that he was forced to play his team in the competition due to the rules. Eagles have a really big squad at their disposal which Santosh Trophy stars like KJ Arun, Ahmed Malik, KV Naseeb, A M Sumesh, K Navas which adds a local flavor along with the player of Indian origin Charles Vivian Diaz.

Eagles FC Kerala's hopes will be lying on Koko Sakibo's shoulders

Eagles FC Kerala’s hopes will be lying on Koko Sakibo’s shoulders

The foreigners in the squad are Charles Dziah, Odili Felix Chidi and Koko Sakibo. Defender Charles Dziah had come through the ranks of Viva Kerala before establishing himself as a force to reckon with in I-League. Koko Sakibo is also a known face in I-League circuit due to his past exploits with Dempo SC. The striker is also well versed to play in the attacking midfield role and his experience and expertise will be quite handy in the Federation Cup. Fellow striker Odili Felix Chidi is expected to share the goal scoring burden for the Eagles. The former Josco SC and Vasco SC player has good experience in Indian football circuits. There were news that Eagles FC Kerala are looking for a fourth foreigner in Asian Quota, but it is unlikely that he will play a key role in Federation Cup.

The Kochi based team’s squad is quite big with the latest additions from IMG-R to an already strong squad. Coach Stanley Rozario is trying to bring a new concept to the team and he is using a mix of four languages to communicate his ideas to the players. Former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan coach has a liking for 4-4-2 formation and his players are expected to line-up in a similar pattern in Kochi as well.

They have been handed a tough group with the likes of Pune FC, United S.C and Churchill Brothers in their pool. All the teams have strong presence of Kerala players which might divide the fans support. Anas Edathodika led Pune FC are the favorites in the group while Vineeth CK and co. will be eyeing to make the best use of the venue where he made his international debut. Defending Champions Churchill Brothers are undergoing a torrid time in I-League and will be hoping for a change in fortunes in the Federations Cup. All these teams finished inside top-5 in I-League and Eagles FC Kerala will be up for a tough fight against these teams.

The football passionate southern state has been deprived of top quality Indian Football for some time now. Federation Cup brings back the national attention once again and it presents an opportunity for Eagles to test themselves against tough oppositions before the I-League division 2. The standards and quality of the teams are a bit high and Eagles FC will clearly start as the underdogs in this group. It remains to be seen whether Eagles FC Kerala can spring a surprise or two in Federation Cup. The passionate crowd in Kerala is ready for the festival, can the hosts step up to the occasion?