Since Sepp Blatter, the former President of FIFA, during his visit to India, proclaimed the potential awakening of the “Sleeping Giant” of football, several attempts have been made to capitalize on the large Indian population in order to build a successful market. Several renowned European football clubs have joined the race to get a hold of this market. Football clubs from English Premier League are spearheading because of their comparatively superior fan base and they have already started opening football academies in india.
In a cricket-crazy nation like India, it is really a challenge to compete with the cricketing market. However one of the policies of those clubs is to enter the country with a promise to find out talents. The poor infrastructure of Indian football has failed to produce decent performance on both the international and club level. While Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, North Korea and China have emerged as respectable footballing power in the world stage, India, despite its huge population of almost 1.3 billion, has witnessed a gradual degradation. Therefore, the English outfits have made the right choice in investing into academy.
In August 2011, former England and Liverpool player Steve McMahon launched the ‘Steve McMahon Football Academy’ in Noida in collaboration with Liverpool FC. It started its project in association with Genesis Global School and held its first training in the following October. Laxman Public School became their second venue. According to Paul Masefield, another former English player and assistant to McMahon at the academy said that its aim is to educate the trainees on nutrition, player management and also life skills beside producing Indian role models like Sachin Tendulkar in cricket or Baichung Bhutia in football . Moreover, it concentrated at the grassroots to provide training for kids of 8-16 years.
Liverpool FC made yet another promising step in Indian football by setting up a partnership with the I-League team DSK Shivajians. The LFC International Football academy in Pune is built on international standard and it has a residential complex with modern features and facilities. This academy looks to scout U-17 and U-19 players to prepare them for the I-league team. Since its initiation in 2014, it has shown decent sign of progression.
Liverpool’s arch rival Manchester United too, in the same year, started their project through Manchester United Soccer Schools by joining hands with the Western India Football Association. At Cooperage, the school began their work and it wanted to host a development programme to provide the young talents a good opportunity for training in almost the same way the United academy players train. Head Coach Chris O’Brien explained this and acknowledged their limitations too. Though the project looked promising, the course seemed unaffordable because of its exorbitant charge. In another programme held by Airtel Rising Stars in 2014, eleven under-16 players across the country were picked up for training at Manchester Soccer School in the UK. However in 2016 Manchester United Soccer Schools have decided to stop further campaigning and such projects are not looking prospective at present.
Arsenal Soccer Schools have taken a much more solid step by collaborating with India On Track (IOT) to establish several centres in six states, namely in Delhi NCR, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab and Telengana. It recently has opened another centre in DPS Megacity in Kolkata. IOT focuses on a 3-tier ‘Progression Pyramid’ – Grassroots Centres, Development Centres and Elite Academies – to systematically bring up the budding talents. It also aims at providing career opportunities in coaching, physiotherapy and nutrition besides professional playing contracts. Having started their projects in India in 2013, Arsenal Soccer Schools are indicating a bright future. They are progressing well to give the young talents enough opportunity to have good academy training.
The latest club to plan for opening academy in India is Aston Villa. In the previous month, Aston Villa Chairman Tony Xia confirmed the news and their academy will be built in New Delhi. Previously Blackburn Rovers showed their interest when Pune-based meat processing company Venkateshwara Hatcheries Private Limited had took over the club under the name Venky’s London Limited in 2010; but the proposed plan didn’t work out. London based club Chelsea FC too came to India in 2013 to arrange a three-day camp to have an eye on the young talents. Crystal Palace also had worked with Indian Super League side Mumbai FC to have a project ‘Play for Palace’ Dhruvmil Pandya, a 15 year old boy, got a chance to train with their academy in the UK. Previously Everton, Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers showed their interest in short term work in India. QPR undertook a similar project like Crystal Palace to give chances to some young talents.
In recent years, European clubs are flocking to India. The academy-projects undertaken by the EPL clubs certainly have bright future, but there is huge question regarding the affordability of the young talents in a country where a huge percentage of the population remains below poverty level and where the game of football is still not a spontaneous professional choice due to its lack of financial prospects. Under17 FIFA World Cup is knocking at the door and the host nation still has to depend largely on the Tata Football Academy and various clubs in getting the supply of the young players. With the introduction of the Indian Super League, several foreign clubs are expected to join hands with the Indian Franchise-based teams in near future. However it will take much time to properly evaluate the enterprises of the academy works of the Premier League sides.