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The Red Star Academy revolution, led by ‘the most hated football coach’ in Kerala

A small residential academy from the district of Thrissur in Kerala is reaping the rewards of a methodical approach to coaching…

Twenty years ago, a football-loving Malayali named Manoj founded a local club and named it Red Star, after the then supreme Serbian team Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda). The club played in local sevens tournaments.

Fast forward to 2014. Manoj teamed up with a few football aficionados in Kerala and put together the early version of what is now the Red Star Academy. They’ve had Bino George and Jo Paul Ancheri as coaches in the first few years before Jali Ibrahim took over as the chief. 

In April 2014, they started out by conducting trials started in Wayanad, Kannur, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram with the likes of Bino and VP Shaji as selectors. A total of 20 players were selected and Thrissur’s famous Professor PC Thomas’ the then newly-built hostel became the players’ residence. Red Star, one of the state’s first residential football academies, has since moved out to four apartments in Kuttanellur.

Jali is a former national record-holding athlete whose passion for football guided him into the world of coaching. His modern ideas, an eye for picking out the best traits of young footballers have helped the academy take another step forward. He’s honest and straightforward as a coach and in his own words, it has helped him become ‘the most hated coach in Kerala’.

Hrishi Dath (who played for Kerala Blasters and the state team in the Santosh Trophy), Ananthu Murali (who was at FC Bayern for a few days as part of a commercial deal), Alex Saji (who played for KBFC reserves), Amarjeet Mishra (currently at Portuguese club CD Estrela) and Bineesh Balan (former I-League winner with Churchill Brothers) are some of the names that have turned out for Red Star.

Red Star Academy Kerala

They had five of their players called up for the camp for the U-17 team for the World Cup in 2017 although none of them made it into the final squad. Not only were they the first club from Kerala to be zonal champions in the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) 2016-17 U-16 league, four of the five players selected for the U-15 national team camp from Kozhikode last year were from the Thrissur-based academy.

But results do not give you the full picture. “For an academy coach, seeing his student improve is the biggest win. But to take the next step and drive more growth, we need funds and for that we need results,” chief coach Jali Ibrahim told Goal

“Red Star will continue what we are doing right now – to try and make them play football in the most beautiful manner and make them capable of playing at the top level.”

He opined, “The process followed by most of the academies in India is wrong. Players need to be treated on a one-to-one basis. I’m not saying Red Star is 100 per cent perfect. But the thought process applied in our academy is similar to that of those in Europe. “

Jali is against the current methods (or a lack of it) of coaching that are in practice at the grassroots in Indian football and he is not one to shy away from his opinions. “A senior coach once said that I have become the most hated football coach in Kerala but I have taken that as an honour. I’m a straightforward person.”

Currently, there are 25 players with Red Star. The Coronavirus pandemic has affected their plans but the players living in nearby regions still get fitness programmes thrice a week. Under the supervision of Jali, there is Sudheesh KR who is a former Calicut University player and a D License coach and former Gokulam Kerala player Bineesh Balan. 

Running a football academy properly requires patience, perseverance, passionate staff and a boatload of cash.

Finance has not been easy and yet, they have somehow managed to keep it going on the field. Several players left unexpectedly, people who initially invested have left due to financial constraints. But for now, under the tutelage of Jali Ibrahim and the academy’s all-in-all Manoj, Red Star is staying afloat and is producing talented footballers.

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