The Swiss also revealed that he will be watching the southerners’ game against Indian Arrows on Friday.
Foreign investment at a big level is always welcome in Indian football, but has rarely shown this commitment to the cause. Swiss powerhouse FC Basel announced the acquisition of a 26% stake in I-league club Chennai City FC on Wednesday. Khel Now got into a conversation with FC Basel President Bernhard Burgener on the sidelines of the event and the media entrepreneur spoke highly of the club’s ambitions on Indian shores.
“India, for me, is a sleeping giant. I hope one day, India becomes #1 in football. For me, it’s all a little bit about education,” the FC Basel President said.
“In Europe, there are two different divisions – in the top leagues, everything, mostly, is money driven, while at FC Basel, we cannot compete with the money. We use education to create the right players and no club in Europe has given more players to the top brass than us,” Burgener quipped.
“Mohamed Salah was 20 when he came here and look where he’s now. We gave him education,” Burgener recalled.
“Shaqiri, too,” he continued in the same vein. “He was at our academy and then Bayern Munich signed him. We have sold over 30 players to the Bundesliga, one of the top leagues in the world. We need to have this passion and instil it into the youngsters. They need to do the right thing from childhood.”
“We have teams from 8-9-12 year-olds and it starts getting more professional as we reach the youth teams. Professional contracts come in at 17-18, usually. I have seen Chennai City have similar desire and drive. They are building up local players and the 15-16 year-olds believe in themselves. The end goal at both places is to join the first-team,” he explained.
Basel are among the top 30 football clubs in Europe according to UEFA and the partnership is sure to benefit Chennai City, who have already shown the right intent with the regular influx of youth into the senior team.
FC Basel are ranked #29th in UEFA’s list of Club Coefficients
Both parties stressed that the partnership will focus on cooperation for the setting up of a residential youth academy in Coimbatore and rolling out of football schools across the state in the first phase. The association and FC Basel in particular, will also look to educate coaches.
Burgener harped on his Indian partners and the work they have done so far. The club, that was founded in 1946 and joined the I-league with direct entry in 2016, was lauded by the Swiss. “They have set up an academy and we need to help them take it forward. It’s a part of our commitment and we will help them with the knowledge. We want to help in opening bigger doors for Indian football, like we did for Salah to European football, but this can’t be done overnight.”
“We believe in the talent here and thus, we’re sending our best man, Massimo Ceccaroni, to train and setup the right footprint. You’ve to convince young people to live their dream and it’s not just about money. Their 100% gives them a chance to succeed. I will watch the match against Indian Arrows on Friday (in the I-League) and I’m looking forward to meeting the team as well.”
Why not a Chinese club, that is burgeoning with tremendous money and is slowly turning into Asian biggies? we asked Burgener. He smiled and answered, “This decision wasn’t taken in a moment. It took months of planning and discussion and several levels. Chinese clubs or academies are mostly controlled by the government, but not in India.”
We told him about the past sojourns of European bigwigs in the Indian subcontinent and he gave a shrug. “Look, for me, this is a marriage. In a marriage, you don’t say – okay, let’s try this for 3-4 months and see how it works out. You’ve to really iron out the details and then agree to it. This is how it’s going to be, between us and Chennai City.”
Why Chennai? There were so many options out here on the Indian threshold, we asked. We even mentioned Kolkata, arguably Indian football’s posterboy to the globe. He put across his point. “Well, we met through an Indian who was such a massive Chennai City fan. We sat across the table and realized that we had the same set of goals and everything, then fell into place. It was a great coincidence, that everything went so smoothly from the word go.”