The Premier League club is determined to help the country by conducting tournaments for youth teams.

“The second biggest support base in the world of our club, which is why we’re so passionate about making sure that we take our club to India,” noted Manchester United‘s Head of Academy, Nick Cox, to the Indian media contingent during their visit to Manchester. It has been nearly four years since Cox joined the famed Man United academy and players like Brendan Williams, Mason Greenwood and Scott McTominay have come through the ranks into the first-team under his tutelage.

The Englishman expressed his enthusiasm and weighed in on the importance of the sub-continent and how the club is planning to tap into the Indian market to increase their presence in the country. He also said that he is excited about the ‘United We Play’ campaign that the club is organising with Apollo Tyres.

The aim of the program is to engage young players from U-16s and younger in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Goa, Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai and Bengaluru in the next two months. EXCERPTS:

Q1: Can you tell us a little bit about the ‘United We Play’ program?

Nick Cox- So, we’re going to be spending some time working with around 3,000 young people over in India. Our coaches are going to spend time with them, showing them how United train, trying to share some of the things that we do in Manchester with our academy players, with the young people over there.

Then over time, we are going to hopefully select around 30 of the most enthusiastic and promising potentials to spend a little bit more extra special time with us at some point in the future, where they have a real experience of spending time with Manchester United coaches and players.

The real aim here is to inspire a generation of young people, so that we can fill them with the enthusiasm to fall in love with the game, to want to be the best that they can possibly be.

Q2: Tell us more about the plan and about India as a market for Manchester United?

Nick Cox- It’s an exciting time for us. We’re really pleased to be working with Apollo to launch the campaign in India. There are a lot of reasons for the initiative. One of those being that we know that in India, the sport of football is growing. But, Manchester United, in particular, we know that we’ve got a huge fanbase in India. So, it’s important for us that we make sure that we are giving those fans in India a little bit further removed from Old Trafford, the chance to be engaged with the club as best we possibly can.

Q3: What can India achieve from this association?

Nick Cox- We know that football is the fastest growing sport in India. We know that there are more and more people wanting to watch it and more and more people that want to play the sport.

The sport in India is slowly becoming more professionalized in terms of a national league, greater fanbases, more advanced training techniques and resources going towards the sport. So, what we hope the partnership will do is it will help that final piece.

Once we’ve got all these young people that are in love with the game and desperate to play, desperate to improve, we may be able to then share some of the more professionalized techniques that help the game to be a little bit more established. Which means that young Indian players then may well have the potential to go and perform wherever they choose to in the world, wherever their ability takes.

Q4: Recently, Manchester United U14s were in Mumbai, as they were playing in the Next Gen Mumbai Cup. Can you let us know what was the feedback from the coaches or the young players about the Indian players from other teams? Did you have a chance to interact with them since they came back from India?

Nick Cox- Yes, I spent some time with them on Monday. We sent some of our senior staff because it was such an important trip. Those senior staff have been with us for 25 years, worked with all of the best talents that come through our academy. The experience they had, these were their words that it was some of the most amazing experiences they’ve had in the 25 years that they’ve been associated with football. A huge reason for us wanting to take our players to India is because we want them to have an amazing cultural experience as well.

It’s not just about the young Indian players, it’s about our players as well. Football’s an amazing vehicle. It opens to play. It opens doors for people. Our boys would not be going to India if it wasn’t for their association with this football club. So, they have had a life-changing experience. They have had an experience that they never would have had, had it not been for their association with us.

It was about an exchange of cultures. It was about learning about how people are just the same as you. Living in a different culture and learning about the similarities and differences. It was a life-changing experience. I think it would take some time for our young players to realize how magical it was because when you’re 14, you don’t necessarily appreciate now. But, I definitely know that in years to come, it would be something that they look back on and will be a standout moment in their childhood.

Q5: The experience is one part of it. Did they talk about the talent on the pitch across the different teams?

Nick Cox- Absolutely. We know that the games we had were really competitive, high-level games. In terms of it being a real competition on the day, we were really impressed with the talent that was over there. Their attitude, their application, their effort was as good.

Q6: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about Indian players? When do you think India can play in the FIFA World Cup?

Nick Cox- What I know about Indian football is it’s the beginning of a journey. I know that we’ve got a generation of hugely passionate, excited, dedicated young players. I think it’s something like a 400% increase in people playing football in India in the last two years. So, we’re on the runway ready for takeoff. You’ve just added a generation of people obsessed with the game and obsessed with Manchester United as well.

Second biggest support base in the world of our club, which is why we’re so passionate about making sure that we take our club to India to share everything that goes on here with such a passionate fanbase.

Will they play in the World Cup? Why not? We’ve seen very, very small nations with no football history play at the World Cup and be successful. We’ve seen Iceland be successful in big tournaments. So why not?

My job is to try and help people dream. Why should India not play at the World Cup? How soon? Who knows? Because there are a lot of huge nations that are trying to establish themselves. So, I think there’s a long way to go, a lot of work to be done.

But, this is the beginning of that work, of hopefully helping and adding extra layers of technical expertise to the passion which will see this journey come to fruition.

Q7: Your thoughts on the development of Indian football? What should India do to take that next big leap?

Nick Cox- Two major things. The first one is you need a generation of young people who are almost brainwashed with football. Football is on TV 24 hours a day here in Manchester. They can easily access football matches. They’re exposed to it all the time. So, by accident they’re learning techniques and tactics. They watch games and they understand tactics, or they look it up on YouTube and they’re seeing techniques which they’re going to go and replicate on the playground.

Every child here is playing in the playground, playing in the street. Hopefully, we’re going to start to work on that with you to ignite real passionate interest in the sport. Also, what you need is some real professional, advanced training techniques. That is beginning to happen, isn’t it? The league in India is in its early days, but it is becoming more and more competitive and it’s attracting some players and some role models, which I think is really important.

Q8: Very few Asian players have made a mark in Europe, Park Ji-sung was very successful at United. Why do you think Asian players struggle to make it at such a high level?

Nick Cox- I think the Premier League is probably the hardest league in the world to try and compete in because it has the most resources. It brings the best players. Then when you arrive into the league, it’s the fastest, the most competitive, technical and tactical. So, it’s not an easy league for anybody to want to play in. But, I generally believe that it’s only a matter of time before we start to see some nations that perhaps haven’t traditionally produced players for the Premier League.

We’re going to start to see players from those nations make their way into these leagues over time because I can see that the enthusiasm, the excitement, the interest, the passion, the love is slowly going to be followed by a bit more professionalism, some more advanced training techniques. It may take some years, but we’ll definitely see a breakthrough at some point. It’s really exciting to see that the foundations are slowly being put in place, aren’t they? In terms of opportunities for young people to express themselves and enjoy the game.

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