The Gokulam midfielder and the ‘player-of-the-match’ in the deciding game gets felicitated

His ponytail bouncing, his feet glued to the ball, the swiftly moving Emil Benny provided one of the most fascinating images of this season’s I-League.

The 20-year-old was a revelation. He was adjudged the ‘Best Emerging Player’ of the league that concluded at Kolkata last Saturday. And he was the ‘player-of-the-match’ in the deciding encounter against TRAU.

On Friday, the midfielder was felicitated at a function at Kalpetta, where he went to school and blossomed as a promising footballer. Emil could be pardoned if he thinks he is living a fairytale at the moment.

Shortly after the function organised by the Wayanad District Football Association, he told The Hindu over phone: “I never imagined that I could get to play in the I-League so early in my career, let alone be part of the champion side and score a goal in the deciding match.”

That goal, scored with 16 minutes remaining, had given Gokulam the lead.

It was his third goal of the tournament, in which he shone brightly as an attacking midfielder.

Preferred position

“I would prefer to be a striker, but I was happy to be the midfielder, something coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese asked me to,’ Emil said. “I owe a lot to him; but for him, I would not have played in the I-League at all. He promoted me to Gokulam’s main side from the reserves.”

And the coach is delighted with Emil’s show. “I think he will be playing for India before long,” said Annese. “I haven’t seen any other Indian midfielder who is as good in one-on-one. He is a fine dribbler and has good speed too.”

It was Emil’s dribbling skills that made him stand out as he started playing for SKMJ Higher Secondary School, Kalpetta. “I had begun playing football in my village Thrikkepatta, but it was after training under coach G.S. Baiju at SKMJ that I improved greatly,” he said. “I also learnt a great deal from my coach Binoy at the MSP Academy, Malappuram.”

From the academy, he was recruited by Gokulam’s technical director Bino George, under whom he also played for Kerala in the Santosh Trophy qualifying tournament in 2019. “I have been fortunate to work with good coaches like Bino throughout my career so far,” said Emil, who admires I.M. Vijayan and Sunil Chhetri.

Among the international footballers, he idolises Ronaldinho. “I am wearing my long hair because of Ronaldinho,” he smiles.

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