Quick feet and a fine moustache: Gokulam Kerala’s rising star Noufal PN hopes to end season on a high

KOZHIKODE: The 2023 Hero Super Cup was an experience to forget for Gokulam Kerala FC. With three losses in as many games, the Malabarians were the only side to come out empty-handed from the group stages. The disappointment was palpable on Noufal PN’s face after their last defeat against Jamshedpur FC on Tuesday.

“We gave our maximum effort on the pitch. It’s a game, either you win or lose. Unfortunately for us, it was the latter,” said the 22-year-old, who has been Gokulam Kerala’s brightest young talent this season. “We did our best against some of the top clubs of the ISL.”

In only his first year as a professional, Noufal was tied for the most assists by an Indian in this season’s Hero I-League — with six assists alongside Sreenidi Deccan FC’s Ramhlunchhunga.

Noufal was born in Thiruvambady, a small hill town situated less than an hour’s drive from Kozhikode. He started playing football at the age of eight in his school and later represented the local club Cosmos FC in many regional tournaments. His splendid performances for 2021-22 Kerala Premier League semi-finalists BASCO FC earned him a place in Kerala’s 2021-22 Hero Santosh Trophy squad, which ultimately proved to be his big break. The pacey right-winger was snapped up by Gokulam Kerala after impressing in the tournament, where he helped Kerala win their seventh title in front of a packed Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri.

“It is my first year playing for a professional club in the I-League. I’m very happy that I’m already the top assist provider in my team. I have developed a lot as a player in my first season here,” said Noufal.

Playing for a club like Gokulam Kerala, who are two-time Hero I-League champions, the pressure was always going to be high on Noufal’s young shoulders. “I’m very grateful to wear the Gokulam shirt. Playing in the I-League is different from the Santosh Trophy, it’s tougher. And now here in the Super Cup, it’s more difficult against the ISL sides,” he said.

But no matter the opposition on the pitch, Noufal forgets everything and has just one thing on his mind — run with the ball and pick out a teammate in the box. One of his best showings came in Gokulam Kerala’s 3-0 victory over Aizawl FC in February. With his proud mother watching in the stands, he won the Hero of the Match award for two almost identical assists with two cutbacks from the right wing — for Rahul Raju and Sergio Mendigutxia.

“I love playing as a winger because I love to run, and I’m pretty good at it. I know that I have the quality to run with the ball and create chances for my team,” he said. Noufal’s confidence, combined with his leadership qualities, have earned him the trust of head coach Francesc Bonet. Against TRAU FC in January, the 22-year-old was named Gokulam’s captain even though he was the second-youngest in the playing eleven.

As far as his future is concerned, Noufal said, “I have been getting offers from some ISL teams, but nothing is confirmed yet. For now, I have a contract with Gokulam Kerala FC until 2024.” And tougher challenges remain, as Gokulam prepare for their final game of the season, a playoff for a spot in the Asian Cup group stage against the Hero Super Cup champions.

Also ReadJamshedpur wary of Bengaluru threat ahead of Hero Super Cup 2023 semi-final

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