Manchester United and Chelsea have made slow inroads into developing football in India. Or at least that’s what they call it. But if you really ask an expert, a three-day clinic or a three-week course doesn’t teach players anything.
They call it ‘the experience’ of playing the United or Chelsea way, and fans love-struck by the club flock to their ‘academies’. These clubs may have the goodwill of the country in their hearts, but the reality is that India needs a major overhaul, not half-a-marketing gimmick.
So, in come the gurus of football coaching— FC Barcelona.
And, not surprisingly, their plans for India are completely different to that of other big clubs. These guys are more serious about actually tapping into the unlimited football talent in country.
Firstpost spoke to Antoni Claveria, who is the Director of FCBEscola India, and he sees no reason why football can grow in India: “India is a diamond,” he says, before adding: “This is not a country, it’s a continent and I’m glad we have the chance to show them how to learn football the Barcelona way.”
The most impressive part of their plan is that it IS NOT short-term: “We are not here for the usual one-two day camp. Initially, yes, but when we start with our full-fledged camps, all our programmes are going to be at least a year long.”
And that, is what makes this different.
That, and the fact that the kids won’t just learn about football: “It’s not only about playing. It’s about the Barcelona philosophy — the teamwork, the theory of football, fair play and the belief that one can make a career of sport.”
All this is fine, but what every young players wants to know is this: will we end up going to Barcelona? Will we become football professionals?
“It will be wrong to make false promises,” says Claveria, “but we are looking to create the chance. It takes time… decades actually. La Masia started 30 years ago and then produced the best bunch of players. Here in India, the challenge is greater. The players are not bad, the situation is. And we are a club who know how to make players.”
Claveria knows that Indian students study a lot, and they want to work towards including sport in school curriculum. These aspects, of course, are for the long run.
“We’re here for a long time. It took us two years to just set up base in the country, but it shows the commitment. Also, we’re here to train the coaches — that actually is the first step to developing football in a country like India.”
Another unique approach was to team up with local partners. Claveria has been touring the country looking for cities which will suit Barcelona and is taking help from local bodies to set-up camp. In this case, he was speaking to us from Baroda, where he teamed up with the Baroda Football Academy to assess the city.
Love or hate them, Barcelona’s ethic is simply beautiful, and it reflected in the fact that after Dani Alves was substituted in a recent match, all the players on the pitch were from their academy.
Claveria ended the conversation with the most striking words: “I’ve come to India several times and I have tried studying the people here. Something gives me immense confidence that this will work. I believe this can happen.”
And belief is what usually makes football tick. Indeed, belief is what makes India tick too.