Indian football has recently witnessed a slew of tie-ups with foreign clubs but whether they will stand the test of time remains to be seen.
Chennai City recent signed a massive deal with FC Basel, with the Swiss powerhouses set to invest and control the club in its footballing operations in the foreseeable future. Few days before, Minerva Punjab signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with German club Borussia Monchengladbach.
The long-term partnership means Monchengladbach will help Minerva in developing football at the grassroots level and focus on youth development. The Bundesliga club will also act as a consultant for all football-related matters. Indian football has seen several such deals in the past, but not a lot of them have really helped the sport, or the club, grow with the trajectory expected from such joint ventures.
For starters, let us understand the pragmatism associated with such deals between a football powerhouse and an underwhelming upstart. It’s a deal that pays the powerhouse and usually helps with better coaching help and ideas on paper. On the pitch, the coaches help the youth level teams, who slowly transform into better players when they take the key step up to senior football.
FC Basel bought 26% stake in Indian side Chennai City
This usual exercise has rarely been put to good use in India and the failure falls on the shoulders of the nation itself. The top football leagues in Europe forbid players from any country outside the top-70 on the FIFA rankings to ply their trade with them and talents from India have to remain on the sidelines in countries like Slovenia, Norway and others. While such experiences can also be a handful, players here look for greener pastures.
Coming back to foreign involvement, the oldest major association that comes to mind was between East Bengal and Leicester City at the beginning of the 21st century. An U-16 team led by the inspired Bhaichung Bhutia rubbed shoulders with European clubs like Mallorca, Leicester and Maritimo FC. It helped the club, but the tie-up was shortlived.
One of the oldest football representatives from the state of Punjab, JCT, had tied up with Wolverhampton Wanderers, but that association went cold when the Indian club decided to stop its footballing operations.
Such associations have seldom done a world of good and Indian football must wake up to reality. As recently as 2017, Sanjeev Goenka, co-owner of ISL side ATK, said after three long years of association with Spanish outfit Atletico Madrid, “Frankly ATM had not put any money into the franchise (ATK).” When quizzed on why the Spanish team decided to part ways? “I cannot answer for ATM,” Goenka had said, speaking to the Telegraph.
Frankly, big clubs invest in such projects to ensure a healthy influx of talent, like the City Group’s investment in Melbourne City. Daniel Arzani is a prime example of the same. Meanwhile, in spite of some good talents available in India, their unavailability to play for the foreign clubs curbs interest in the long term.
The Manchester United Football Schools, that started in 2012-13, have closed down operations, knowing full well that league rules in England won’t allow Indians to play there, not until India become a major force in Asian football first.
Liverpool tied up with DSK Shivajians and produced some great talents like Jerry Mawihmingthanga and Lallianzuala Chhangte, but operations for this club also stalled, with a lot of players complaining about the non-payment of salaries. Such was the state of the club by the time it ended.
Minerva Punjab recently signed a MoU with Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach
The only successful relationship that is still functioning is Tata Football Academy’s partnership with Sheffield United, with youngsters from Jamshedpur still visiting and benefiting from the structure in England. Tata’s dedication to football is unquestionable and the academy has time and again provided Indian football with household names – a trend that looks set to continue with their ongoing efforts and recent participation in the Indian Super League.
This, though, is Chennai City’s second foray into partnership – having worked with Finnish club JS Hercules in 2017. Footballers from the South Indian club did visit the European facilities and trained their for a month, but their gameplay, subsequently, did not show any massive change. In all honesty, a month’s time is too little to mould a player’s footballing intelligence.
Let’s take the Minerva-Borussia and Chennai City-FC Basel associations with a pinch of salt – they may or may not have the desired impact, but the will is right. Indian clubs must understand that associations with clubs as hungry for success as them would lead to better results, as both parties would be actively working for it.
Commercial expectations and beneficial footballing exchanges have rarely gone well hand-in-hand, a lesson India should’ve learnt by now. ‘Big’ clubs can benefit by widening their fan-base in other countries, but it does not really change the situation of the clubs at the ground level.
Another reason pertaining to the failure of such deals is the lack of youth systems in Indian football – a much-needed apparatus that has seen a projectile-like growth in the last three years. Eight ISL clubs have their B-teams and some of them have also setup youth sides. Some I-league clubs, too, are investing in youth and the AIFF’s organizing of youth leagues is sure to get better in the years to come.
If these partnerships target to better the youth sides of the Indian stakeholders, it can be a massive bonus for the country. If not, you can expect another dud deal. Either way, Indian football has seen both and nothing will come as a shock for its fans, who have turned eternal optimists.
Ashique Kuruniyan’s journey, though, gives a little hope. The Villareal graduate has gradually made it to the national team and is starting regularly at FC Pune City. He returned from Spain on the back of an injury and had started for the La Liga club’s youth sides. If such trends continue, Indian football can hope to have a bunch of talents that have had the best facilities at their disposal. If such trends continue…