Kerala Glory: A poetic justice or Satheevan Balan’s heroics?

The clock showed 120 minutes! The scoreline showed 2-1 in favour of Kerala and the assistant referee showed 5 minutes extra, that would be played in VYBK Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata!

By then people in the press box were ready with their reports about how Kerala took the advantage of a 10-men Bengal side and won the 72nd Santosh Trophy . Little did they know, that the Footballing gods were laughing at them and had much more in store for a stature of a final between the two powerhouses of this nation – Kerala & Bengal.

125 minutes on the clock and Bengal gets a freekick at the top box! Excitement? Nah… Bengal reporters were ready to go downstairs. But they had to stop midway and celebrate like everyone else in the stadium as Tirthankar’s left footer freekick, split through even the wall of Kerala, Mithun VS and settled into the back of the net!

126 minutes and Bengal reporters were pretty sure that the home team would be able to retain their favourite state championship. “ This comeback is made in heaven and the writing is on the wall- Bengal will be the champion!” they concluded!

Footballing Gods by then, were laughing their hearts out. “Wait for the Poetic Justice” they smirked!

And why not? The southern giant who has been deprived of the highest crown in the state level, for 13 years 6 months and 28 days, had come into this tournament looking to revive themselves!

They didn’t have had much-famed line-up like Bengal. But what they did have, was the teamwork and a tremendous will power- a phenomenon that was being built, brick by brick, by none other than the tactical genius Mr. Satheevan Balan, the evergreen national scout, who knew what it takes to revive the southern Giants. He knew speed is something that can’t be achieved with the senior players, neither can there be the vicious intent with 30 years threshold members in the squad. He knew something new has to be done; something different, that no other coaches will be daring to replicate!

“See, I didn’t get the opportunity to manage the Kerala team in the last 14 years; so when I got the chance I started from the scratch- The support staffs were new; the players were young and I had the scope to work freely. After IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Anchery there were no new generation as such. In the last 3-4 years in which I was working with the university team I got to know many unfurnished talented youngsters. In that way I came to know players who really works hard- Not for getting into a club ; but for the sake of this beautiful game. There are 13 players who are without a job and their hunger for victory is something worth it.”

With a side of average age 22, Mr. Balan knew they would need his brainworks to pull off the unthinkable. Thus his tactics and technical brainwork were the key to the final shoot-out where Kerala custodian Midhun had miraculously saved, the first two consecutive spotkicks from the much-famed Bengal side ; which was more than enough for his team to lift the trophy.

“ I told Midhun that your strong side is always right. So look to that side. 2 shots of 5 stipulated spotkicks will be in your right side for sure!” And good lord! He was bang on, with his goalie, who saw his coach’s words coming true when the first two spotkicks were hit to his strong side. And the goalie, who had utmost faith in his coach, implemented what he was told before the shoot-out and came out as the man, who single-handedly won the final and the glamorous Santosh Trophy, for which Kerala Govt. earlier used to declare a state holiday!

“Earlier there were no promoters or exposure in Kerala for the footballers. There were hardly any quality-tournaments, save for inter-district and club championships. There were no grassroot competitions. Fortunately in the last few years things have turned around. There have been University games, U-14, U-16, U-18 leagues and now that KPL has started Kerala football will come off the ages. And this Santosh Trophy is a prestigious glory that I might rank as my best accomplishment and service to my state, till now.”

Mr. Balan was also impressed  with the Bengal boys and the spirit shown by them and heaped on praises for his rival side. “ Tirthankar is a fabulous player though I’m disappointed with his physique. Many of the Bengal players like him, Subrata Paul, Abhishek Das etc have played under me in the grassroot level and I love them. I remember Tirthankar scoring a fascinating goal just after crossing the half line when he was 13/14 years old. He has a really great left foot. Bengal and Kerala has always been the torch-holders of Indian football, much before Goa , Punjab and other states came into the limelight and I was really impressed with how Bengal boys put up this valiant show.”

When he signed off it really seemed that Kerala football is on the right path, with the right man, who came and conquered Bengal; toeing the line of Gokulam Kerala FC who foiled both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan in the same manner, in the same ground in I-League. We all hope the age-old southern powerhouse of this nation continues to spring off many such surprises with Mr. Satheevan Balan at their helm.