Is Man United's soccer school really worth it?
No disrespect to Manchester United's venture to spread training schools around Asia, but the fact remains that they do little to help Indian football grow the way it should.
When you drive past Cooperage in south Mumbai, you will see a bright red building on one side, emblazoned with the Manchester United symbol — probably the most recognisable club crest around the world — along with the words ‘Soccer Schools’.
The tagline for the club's soccer schools is: 'Learn to the play the United way'.
But at what cost? A one-week course this summer will cost you Rs 12,600 and consists of two-hour sessions for six days. That comes down to Rs 2,100 per session, and if you want a better breakdown, then Rs 1,050 per hour.
Leaving aside the usual calculations we attach to something this expensive, the soccer school contains fantastic facilities, which include a tactical classroom, a dressing room which is modelled on the one at Old Trafford and two astro-turf pitches of the highest quality, meant for slick passing, gripped training and will not bruise as hard as it would if you were playing at Five Gardens in Matunga.
The coaches are experienced; head coach Chris O’Brien has been coaching since a couple of decades and has been a part of the Manchester United coaching team when they toured USA in 2010. Along with him comes Mick Bennett, an ex-Bolton Wanderers player.
No disrespect to the fantastic venture from Manchester United to spread these schools around Asia, but a glaring fact remains that they do little to help Indian football grow the way it should.
“This is not a talent hunt or scouting endeavour. This is only a development programme but I believe even one session will make a difference and add some skills to any player,” says O’Brien.
But is this the suggested path for a kid who wants to become a player? Or is it just a way for rich dads to indulge their kids?
In spite of the effort, there is little chance of a talented player making the ranks at a top club in India or abroad via this school.
“This is a way for children in India to train the way Manchester United train. But we are working closely with the Western India Football Association and they are welcome to come down anytime and see these players train. We are not promising anything from our side, in spite of the fact that you can never say what happens in football.”
So, there is no point of having such a school in India, unaffordable for most, and offering little chance of being picked up by a club. It does, however, give you an opportunity to realise how effective focused training is.
Chris O’Brien remains as honest as a coach should be: “We are here to get these kids as close to how we play in England. With these fantastic facilities here, we are for the long term and this will certainly help budding children. They will play here and learn skills which they will when they come across challenges.
“Till then, they should practice, practice and practice.”
Premier India Football Academy
PIFA (Premier India Football Academy) does similar trips around the world to top clubs like Liverpool and Barcelona but all it does to a budding player is add a glorifying line to his CV. It is, of course, an experience worth living for, but not everybody will be able to take advantage as it costs Rs 7,400 for two weeks. Not the guys on the street who deserve to be at better clubs.
And in a country like India, where our hockey, cricket and football players are made on the street, camps like these are like holidays that end up on Facebook walls and maybe enhance a player’s skill — with the condition that they may fade away if not practiced everyday. In a city where there is little space to even walk, that is not possible. Not to forget that skills learnt on international pitches are extremely hard to practice on our hard-ground muddy pitches.
Cheaper options, just in case:
If you feel that your kid is good at the game, then Tata Football Academy is holding trials this April and if he/she gets picked, he/she will be mentored for four years with a huge chance of bagging a contract at a club in India. Not to forget the regular ones that Mumbai FC hold in the city. If it is only a summer camp that he/she is interested in, then numerous ones pop on Google if you search right.
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