WIth Atletico Madrid having ceased their association with ATK Kjel Now looks whether the world’s elite clubs are serious about investing in the development of Indian football…

Not only does Season 4 of the Indian Super League (ISL) have two new teams, we will also get to see re-christening of the tournament’s defending champions. Khel Now understands that Atletico De Kolkata will from now on be known simply as ‘ATK’ and not ‘Amar Tomar Kolkata’, as made public when their principal owner Sanjeev Goenka unveiled Teddy Sheringham as their coach and announced their intention to go solo this season, with Atletico Madrid pulling of the partnership.

“Frankly ATM (Atletico Madrid) had not put any money in on the franchise,” commented the Kolkata based ISL team’s co-owner Sanjeev Goenka. When quizzed on why the Spanish team decided to part ways? “I cannot answer for ATM,” said Goenka speaking to The Telegraph.

With Atletico Madrid moving out ATK owners decided to go solo 

With this, it was quite clear that one more foreign club’s ties-up with an Indian team has come to a premature end without leaving any long term impact whatsoever. In light of the above, we try to ponder whether tie-ups with foreign clubs the right approach for Indian teams?

East Bengal’s English Sojourn

One of the earliest tie-ups we saw in Indian football could perhaps be the deal between Kingfisher East Bengal and Premier League team Leicester City. The deal which was brokered sometime around 2002-03 saw some fruitful bilateral meets.

Also Read: How ATK and Jamshedpur FC May Line Up This Season?

“We found East Bengal the most successful and progressive Indian club and we are very excited about this tie-up. It (the deal) will be far more attractive for Leicester than other Premiership clubs because of Leicester’s ethnic diversity.” Paul Mace Chief Operating Officer of the Foxes at that time was quoted as saying.

East Bengal narrowly lost to the former EPL champions

East Bengal’s U-16 team were invited to train at the Foxes Academy while the senior team were invited to take part in an invitational pre-season tournament marking Leicester’s 120th anniversary.

It was great exposure for the team led by iconic Bhaichung Bhutia. They showed character as they rubbed shoulders against Leicester City, Mallorca and Maritimo FC. Despite such a great start to the association the Foxes demotion to the Championship led to a lack of enthusiasm from the Kolkata club’s officials to further pursue the deal.

A Partnership led by the Punjabi Community

In a similar arrangement, one of the earliest National League winning side’s JCT snapped up a deal with Wolverhampton Wanderers. The English side was back then in the Championship.

The JCT-Wolves deal though had a lot of sense and logic going into it. Wolves enjoyed a huge share of support from Punjabis based in Wolverhampton. “The city has a very large, predominantly Punjabi Sikh Indian community and Wolves even have their own Indian fan club the ‘Punjabi Wolves’,” said Pat McFadden the former MP who was leading the delegation back then.

Also Read: ATK Announce Former Manchester United Duo As Coaches 

JCT’s coach and former India international Parminder Singh was very excited at the entire prospect as he was quoted saying, “It will be a great experience to be working closely with experts. It will be a learning experience when their coaches come and take training on our grounds.”

Wolves coaches at JCT’s Phagwara Campus with Parminder Singh

A series of exchanges saw Wolves coaches taking a keen interest in developing training modules for JCT’s senior as well as junior sides. A coaching delegation from JCT led by Parminder Singh was also invited to observe the training regime of the Wolves in a bid to implement the same back home in Phagwara. However, as fate would have it, JCT got relegated from the I-League few years down the line and the club management decided to wind up their competitive team altogether.

An intent driven partnership with a common goal

But not all partnerships are meant to be broken. Tata Football Academy a CSR initiative of Tata Steel in Jamshedpur has had a fantastic partnership with English lower division side Sheffield United.

Sheffield continue to invest in the relationship as youth academy coaches regularly visit India and take a keen interest in the development of some key talent that came out of the academy namely Udanta Singh, Robin Singh, Alwyn George among many others.

Sheffield United coaches regularly spend time at the TFA campus

A visit to the Sheffield United Academy has almost become an annual ritual for the Academy lads in Jamshedpur and the city is gearing up to host ISL matches for the first time.

“If we can keep up the hard work, I’m sure we’ll see continuous improvement at the TFA. Hopefully, this will affect the whole football scenario in India,” said Dave Mccarthy, Director of Operations at Sheffield United who had worked closely to secure the deal with the Tata Group.

First EPL Partnership In India

Pune based business conglomerate DSK Group too had similar intent. Their route was also led from the Academy model. Spread across acres of land in Loni near Pune, DSK have set up magnificent, world standard football infrastructure with an aim to nurture talent from across India.   

In 2013 DSK Shivajians entered into an agreement with the named and famed Liverpool FC to set up the Liverpool International Football Academy. DSK organised a nationwide talent scouting program to hunt for the best players.

Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher came down To Pune

Liverpool youth coaches Ray Curtis and Micheal Rice had set their base in Pune to scout and nurture the very best. Since then the club continues to maintain the centre of excellence that has nurtured dozens of players over the years.

DSK Shivajians, who now play in the I-League are ably supported by the Liverpool initiative as many of the senior players graduate from the academy setup.

A Partnership To Stay Relevant

Moving further down south from Pune, I-League new entrants Chennai City FC have recently announced their tie-up with JS Hercules a Finland based club who are aiming to get promoted to the top league in their country.

Chennai City owner Rohit Ramesh with representatives of JS Hercules

What makes this partnership interesting is the intent of both parties. Chennai City backed by young Rohit Ramesh has a long term vision to encourage sustainable football development in Chennai and Tamil Nadu. JS Hercules on the other hand, are making headlines in Finland for their unique approach. Led by a sports and technology entrepreneur Mikko Perala, Hercules are using football and their club as a tool to undertake community development activities by actively involving citizens across all age groups.

The above examples show that while the success rate of overseas in investment in Indian football has been hit and miss, not all tie-ups are a sham. There is definitely merit in the approach and here are three mantras that Indian clubs or academies can keep in mind while approaching a foreign club for a tie-up:

  • Clubs in India should not always go after tie-ups with hugely popular or established clubs like (Barcelona / Manchester Umitetd and so on). Partnerships are mutually beneficial when both parties are hungry for success.
  • Clubs must agree on the extent of the partnership and avoid doing too many things. They should either focus on youth development or commercial opportunities. Both don’t go hand-in-hand, experiences in the past have proved the same.

  • Clubs in India should actively pursue and be persistent with their approach when it comes to partnerships. Many such deals broke off due to an unprofessional approach or lack of enthusiasm from the Indian counterparts.

  • Clubs in India must remember that tie-ups with foreign clubs are not a shortcut to success. The tie-ups are just stepping stones that merely help in providing an ecosystem to succeed.