Indian Football

RFYC: Laying foundations for a bright football future

M SudharshanM Sudharshan

April 11 2023
(Courtesy : RFYC)

The residential academy has seen 14 graduates sign with professional ISL and I-League clubs.

The Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) is a residential football academy launched in 2015. It is a five-star-rated academy under the AIFF Academy Accreditation Programme. Since its inception, the program has scouted talented young football players from across India after thorough scouting that runs throughout the year.

Each year, 16 best players are offered scholarships to train in the residential academy based in Mumbai. Despite being relatively new, RFYC has had close to 14 players sign with professional clubs in the ISL and I-League.

· MCFC – Ayush Chhikara (ISL Debut – 2022/23) and Subhajit Belel (Reserves)

· FCG – Muhammed Nemil (ISL Debut – 2021/22) and Salman KV (Reserves)

· CFC – Aquib Nawab (Reserves), and Gulab Rauth (Reserves)

· BFC – Thoi Singh (Reserves), Felixsson Fernandes (Reserves), and Rashid CK (Reserves)

· KBFC – Aritra Das (Reserves) and Mohammed Basith (Reserves)

· NEUFC – Jackson Singh (Reserves)

· Sreenidi Deccan FC (I-League) – Yash Bisht

The RFYC academy students recently participated in the 2023 edition of the Sanix Cup in Japan which featured leading J League club youth teams. The players after the Sanix Cup went on to train and play against Tokushima Vortis and Cerezo Osaka, clubs in J2 league and J1 league.

 Football Principles

Sandro Salami, Head of Youth explains the football program that runs at RFYC, “We have our own football principles and we think these are values every player should have mastery over by the day they leave the academy to become professionals when they join an ISL or any professional team.

“Clubs like Barcelona and Ajax have their own philosophy and their developmental and main team play in the same fashion. Our responsibility is to deliver good professionals and make them more versatile by playing in different styles and positions.”

“We have delivered a medium for coaches and players and make sure they always deliver the same message. The players play under different coaches as they progress through the academy and shouldn’t find it difficult if a coach gets changed the next year.

“We have coaches from all over the country and foreign coaches as well. We have listed down simple values and we are recognizable by the way we play rather than who is playing for us. If we play with blank jerseys, you should be able to recognize us through our performance. We always play attacking, front-footed football and this is something that sets us apart,” He further added, as to what makes the program successful, with the example of breakthrough star Ayush.

“Ayush is the second academy graduate to make it to the ISL which is amazing. The goal is to help more talent like him and give them a platform and opportunities. We hope that over time, as more players and coaches go through our system, they can positively influence the overall football culture and encourage more teams to play positive football.”

Training Sessions

Sandro Salami iterated, “Ideally, a training session is more complex than a game. At times, it is good to have chaotic situations where there is more cognitive load than a physical or tactical load. The idea is to create a cognitive load in the training session which will be more complex than the actual game. The players will end up being more adaptable and become competitors.

“Players need to find solutions on the ground. We do not want our coaches to say “run” or “dribble”, but rather, suggest solutions. Sometimes coaches do not have to tell players what to do but rather create a scenario where players can find solutions for themselves.

Sandro continued, “We have videos of matches and training sessions which are recorded by the existing video analysis system. We then upload every single session on our YouTube channel and players get access within a few hours. One important point to note is that we do not develop teams. ‘Success’ for us from a football point of view is when a player signs a professional contract for a football club and then hopefully goes on to play for the national team. The focus is primarily on the development of each individual player.”

 Process of Scouting and the Role of AiSCOUT

Sandro also informs us that RFYC uses a special technology to scout the right talent. He said, “RFYC makes use of the AiSCOUT technology wherein the prospective scholar records his videos on the AiSCOUT app, which then analyses the footage and scores each player. The players are assessed on five physical metrics. We have some technical form which we feel is important and with this, we get a leaderboard and a dashboard.”

The scouting team then takes a look at the videos. All athletes stand a chance to showcase their talent and possibly get selected as well.

Sandro added, ”AiSCOUT is placed at the top of the funnel, but we do not rely totally on it. It is the first step of our scouting process and allows us to cast a wide net when it comes to scouting for talent across India. This application is accessible to all and all the players can upload their videos. We first tried the app internally and now we have four players in our full-time program who came on our radar through AiSCOUT.

After looking at the videos we have multiple selection rounds and then the final camp. We initially do regional camps, and in each of these camps, our scouts identify close to 40 players. Some scouts have a contract with us for 6 to 8 months and a few throughout the year.”

The head of youth development on scouting added, “The initial step is identification. We don’t use the word “trials” but rather term it as a clinic. In the month of May, we invite the top 60 to 65 players whom we think are the best to a week-long camp to our facility, with all expenses paid, where we treat and train them as Young Champs. The idea is to give them a taste of the lives led by our scholars, so we can better evaluate their readiness while shown an accurate picture about the discipline and commitment it takes to live the life of a professional athlete” he added.

“We have written to the state associations as well to make it more scalable because there is no end to the number of scouts we can hire. During the camp in Mumbai, we collect data from the players which allows us to gauge their physical growth potential, so we can look at how the player will grow moving forward. Let’s say we discover that a player will grow 165cm, (goalkeeper) we then cannot say he will become a goalkeeper for an ISL club. In that case, we have to look for different options.”

 Scouting in Depth

Steve Charles, Head of Scouting, RFYC, gave a brief history of the academy’s scouting process, “At the inception of the program, we were dependent on ISL clubs and scouted players from their grassroots program. Then we tried to move independently and recruited scouts who now work for us on a seasonal basis for five to six months. We initially identified hotspots (Kolkata, Northeast, Kerala, and Maharashtra) and subsequently expanded to other regions.

“As of today, we have 14 scouts (Pan India), and how they operate is – by identifying players in their region through connections and watching the local leagues. There was an instance where our scout identified a player playing on the beach and ended up training in the RFYC camp!”

“The scout identifies players (U-14) across his region and calls them for a review session. The review session is a proper training session up to the Young Champs standard. From this, the scout creates a shortlist and then I go to each region and conduct another session with the pre-scouted players. As mentioned, 60 – 65 players are selected from across India once a year. The selected players come to the final selection camp for a week’s training in Mumbai. In the end, 16 players are selected and are offered scholarships.”

The RFYC academy is progressing at a good pace supplying young talents to ISL clubs every year. The program is set to help talented youngsters across the country and in particular, Indian Football.

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