Similar to many other countries, the landscape of Indian football was shaped by the British. Early Indian clubs stuck mostly to the archaic 2-3-5 system and followed the English style of play. A lot of things changed after independence. The English style of play was slowly phased out of Indian club football. A recent trend shows Indian football looking past the English Channel again, with several top Indian clubs tieing-up with English clubs and football academies.
It all started with East Bengal. Back in 2004, the Red and Gold entered into an agreement with Leicester City FC. Nicknamed the “Foxes”, Leicester are 3 times winner of League Cup and have won several other titles in England. The club aimed to diversify their fan base and rope in Asians living in Leicestershire. Club official Paul Mace, said in a press meet in Kolkata – “These agreements will open the doors to a wide range of footballing and commercial benefits for all parties and promote the name of Leicester City throughout Asian subcontinent”. A three year deal was signed. The deal focused on a multitude of activities. One of which was youth development program.
East Bengal went on a mini-tour to England in November 2004 and played a pre-season game against Leicester City.
Bayern Munich’s trip to Kolkata for Oliver Kahn’s farewell match in 2008 seemed to open up the pipeline again. Bayern wanted to open a football Academy in Bengal but were pegged back due to lack of available lands. But their arrival ushered in a flurry of tie-up deals.
First on the bandwagon was JCT. The Phagwara club, former Indian Champions, tied up with former Champions of England, Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2008. First team coach Terry Connor, travelled to JCT’s training ground in Hoshiarpur. The agreement was a gradual extension of Wolverhampton – India partnership. Exchange of Academy staff was one of items in the agenda. Considering the fact that JCT has one of the best youth systems in India, this was a welcome move.
Tata Football Academy, India’s foremost youth Academy entered into an agreement with Sheffield United in 2010. The Blades agreed to undertake a 12-month programme on coaching, fitness and professional development of coaches and cadets. A designated coach will deliver lessons on technical aspects; a fitness coach will advise the TFA team on sports science, strength, conditioning work and dietary requirements.
Dempo, India’s finest football team over last half a decade recently disclosed that they are in the process of entering into a partnership with an English club. Till date they haven’t publicized the name of the English club.
Other than tie-ups between clubs, several major European clubs have begun talent hunts in India. In August 2010, seven boys went to Munich to be a part of Bayern’s training camp. These boys were handpicked by Gerd Muller, Bayern youth coach from Siliguri. The selected group attended Bayern’s first Bundesliga match and met Thomas Muller, Robben and others. They also attended Bayern’s pre-season camp for U-17. A team of 16 school kids were sent to London to take part in “Arsenal International Soccer Festival”. The team included players from all parts of India. English powerhouse Chelsea have recently expressed interest to enter into a financial tie-up with a Indian corporate partner. However it is still unclear whether they have any intention to contribute to Indian football or not.
The crucial question – How effective are these tie-ups really?
Bob Houghton, a man who knows a thing or two about English football, reckons this to be harmful. In an interview given in 2008, he said this – “Do you really believe these clubs are hunting for talent in India? They are actually hunting India and are a menace for Indian football. They are doing nothing for the sport, all this is a money-making racket, nothing more than a marketing gimmick”.
He might have a point there. The East Bengal – Leicester deal sunk without any long term impact. I have tried contacting both set of fans and no one really knows what happened in the end. Leicester has had its share of financial upheavals in recent times. So there’s a chance that the deal fell through between changing managements.
The Wolves – JCT deal is part of a larger project. The large concentration of North Indian population in Wolverhampton surroundings may be a possible reason behind this tie-up. However, so far the tie-up seems to have gone better than the EB-LCFC one. In July, 2010, two years after the deal was signed, a small team of JCT players went to Wolverhampton. The team contained five young players and a coach. They took part in a “tactical and technical” training program.
It is quite clear that the clubs, that are a part of the tie-up, has clear plans about conquering the ever increasing Indian population in their backyard. Despite this fact, Indian football does stand to gain some positives from these deals. English clubs have some of the best facilities in the world, any tactical exchanges or actual player exchanges might benefit Indian clubs in the long run. However, care has to be taken that the agreements that are signed provide enough leverage to Indian interests and not just the marketing interest of English clubs.
What do the Indian football fans think ?