ISL: Manchester City owners look to build football empire with Mumbai City FC and 'unleash power of Indian football'

CFG's CEO Ferran Soriano said instead of looking to bring in players and coaches from outside at Mumbai City FC, the focus would be on training Indian players and coaches to make the club self sustainable.

Ujwal Singh July 28, 2020 16:13:39 IST
ISL: Manchester City owners look to build football empire with Mumbai City FC and 'unleash power of Indian football'
  • Manchester City owners City Football Group have acquired a majority 65 percent stake in ISL club Mumbai City FC.

  • The partnership is expected to benefit Mumbai club in terms of expertise, technology and coaching.

  • Existing shareholders Ranbir Kapoor and Bimal Parekh will hold on to the remaining 35 percent stake.

Top European clubs investing in Indian football is not a new thing. English clubs had earlier forged partnerships with I-League teams and a similar trend was witnessed after the launch of Indian Super League in (ISL) in 2014. LaLiga’s Atletico Madrid were part owners of ATK while Fiorentina once held a 15 percent stake in now defunct FC Pune City.

But the owners of English giants Manchester City have taken a big leap by buying a majority stake in the ISL franchise Mumbai City FC. City’s parent company City Football Group (CFG) now owns a 65 percent stake in the Indian club.

Mumbai is the eight such acquisition for CFG, which besides the Manchester club, also includes New York City in US, Melbourne City in Australia, Yokohama F Marinos in Japan, Girona FC in Spain and Sichuan Jiunia in China.

ISL Manchester City owners look to build football empire with Mumbai City FC and unleash power of Indian football

FSDL chairperson Nita Ambani with Ferran Soriano announced CFG's majority stake acquisition in ISL's Mumbai City FC. ISL media

There’s no doubt that the move has all the potential to make a significant contribution to Indian football, but history suggests that such partnerships don’t usually last very long. Lack of proper planning or short-term gratification has generally rendered these partnerships to noting more than big announcements. However, CFG have an impressive CV of developing football and clubs across the globe.

Ferran Soriano, CFG's Chief Executive Officer, who made the big announcement along with Football Sports Development Limited and Reliance Foundation chairperson Nita Ambani, made it clear that they are in India for the long haul.

“We have been looking at this for years. I came myself and watched many games and we are now convinced of the bright future of football in India. I am sure 10 years from now, we will be here and we will talking about a lot of people playing good football for India," Soriano told media at the event.

Soriano was also quick to stress that the short-term roadmap for CFG is about “learning about the club and culture” while adding that they won’t indulge in quick fixes and the aim is to make the club self-sustainable.

“We are not here to import anything. We are here to unleash the power of Indian football. There are good players and coaches (In India), we will help them and helping means sharing experiences, sharing technology, inspiring them. That's what we aim to do, to help the people who are already here to grow,” said the former general manager of Barcelona.

But how do they expect to do so? CFG is determined to work on a long-term plan so as to create a connect with the local people and develop grassroots football in the city.

“Our priority No 1 is to get to kids early. In New York, we started six years ago by bringing in the best coaches and coaching methodology for the kids who were aged seven, eight, and nine. Now that they are 14-15, and are winning against European teams. We need to approach the kids very early because there are certain things in football that can only be learned very early,” Soriano said.

Damian Willoughby, who will be taking on the CEO role for CFG India, added that while the club may not look to bring in marquee players any time soon, their global network of coaches and clubs could help them acquire “right” overseas players for Mumbai.

“Our focus is to cultivate young talent here. That's ultimately the lifeline of a football club: to have a conveyor belt of young talent that can come through and represent the team. We are fortunate that we have a network of global football knowledge and expertise.

“There are other coaches who identify players that are right for a market and can operate within the environment of that league and we have seen huge success with players that we have identified and are currently playing in Melbourne and Yokohama. So, we are extremely confident about our colleagues in global football who can help us identify those players.”

With a partnership with Manchester City, it would be an obvious expectation from Mumbai football fans to watch the English club in action in their own backyard. However, they may have to wait a little longer. Soriano said that the Indian club would have multiple exposure tours including coaches at Mumbai having a “relationship with Pep Guardiola”.

We are well aware of Guardiola’s style of 'beautiful' football. Mumbai would now have to gear up to walk on the same path.

“We have to win the hearts and minds of Mumbai people. The only way I know how to do this is by playing good football. The first thing we need to do is to offer beautiful football,” Soriano signed off.

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