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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Amit Bhatia's Perspective: Indian Involvement in English Soccer...English Involvement in Indian Soccer

Dhiman Sarkar, Hindustan Times - Vision India for English clubs
- Zurich, November 12, 2008
- Alex Ferguson wasn’t there but his comment of a successful manager being able to see tomorrow --- made twice by different people here --- put in perspective India being a buzzword among some of football's most influential backroom boys here. For, as former Premier League chairman Keith Harris mentioned in a different context on Tuesday, the only people who made money from yesterday was The Beatles.
- "We can't ignore the economic powerhouse India is projected to be by 2020. India has a knowledgeable football audience, young population and is big enough for more than one sport, so it's not about competing with cricket," Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon said here, four months after Manchester United boss David Gill spoke of India being a destination.
- Both Kenyon and Arsenal's David Dein agreed at the black cube that FIFA's headquarters look like that the interest won't translate into their teams flying into India for heavyweight friendlies. Kenyon mentioned the facilities, the monsoon being a deterrent to a pre-season tour and also "taking a team in isolation doesn't work."
- On Tuesday, as the 10th anniversary seminar of the International Football Arena (IFA), ended, Dein said Arsenal are looking at "doing something about youth development at the moment." Calling his club a work in progress, Amit Bhatia, vice-chairman Queen's Park Rangers and Laxmi Mittal's son-in-law, spoke on similar lines after stating his disappointment at most Indian corporates' reluctance to help sport.
- The clubs' statements were in sync with what Max Van Den Doel, director sports marketing at Adidas, said during a discussion on football's business prospects in India. "Bear in mind that this is a long-term journey. Don't think of returns in the first five-seven years and don't make the mistake of clubbing India with China," he said.
- For Kenyon, who's visited India thrice over the past 12 months, "the right way of entry to build the sport" is through "knowledge transfer with regard to coaches and club administration". "We've given the AIFF a menu saying this is what we can offer and asked them to see where we can help. I am planning a pre-Christmas visit to New Delhi when we want to announce the specifics of the tie-up," he said.
- The possibility of getting involved through Chelsea's sponsors --- Samsung and Adidas for instance --- too could be explored, Kenyon said, because "we all want the same thing."
- In step with FIFA president Sepp Blatter's assertion of the importance of self-help when he visited India in April 2007, Kenyon ruled out providing infrastructure support. "We can support, educate but no one's coming to build stadiums," he said.
- Having inaugurated the seminar, Blatter heard Franz Beckenbauer's childhood recollections of kicking football among debris in post-war Munich, Der Kaiser's plea to uphold football's emotional quotient and his remembrance of a "smiling Peter Kenyon" after the Champions League final of 1999 but was absent during the deliberations on India.
- Also missing was Bob Houghton who failed to make the trip because his travel documents were not in order. Given his dislike for top clubs making whistle-stop tours and his insistence on development step by step, Houghton would have liked revisiting the country one of whose teams, Malmo, he got within touching distance of European glory. Hindustan Times

Rob Hughes/International Herald Tribune - Eager to awake the sleeping giants

- ZURICH: The fascination with India as a rising marketplace for global sports slowed, but did not halt, with the financial crises.
On Monday, while India's cricketers were wrapping up their emphatic test series victory over Australia in Nagpur, 150 of the most entrepreneurial people in soccer were being told in Zurich that if they ignore the subcontinent they risk missing the boat in the developing world.
- "Cricket and Bollywood have taken off with a $2 billion television-friendly version of their game," said Max van den Doel, a speaker at the conference of the International Football Arena. "The NBA has a 10-year plan to make basketball the No. 2 sport in India, and the fact that American basketball has such a plan already in place shows that soccer cannot afford to ignore the potential there."
- Van den Doel has a vested interest in developing the sporting markets. He is the Adidas marketing director for Asia and Oceania, with an awful lot of shoes to sell. And who can say for how much longer David Beckham can remain the iconic Adidas figure in Asia?
- From the sporting aspect, it was intriguing to hear Hasan Al Sabah, once a Bahrain national team player and now the director of education for the entire Asian soccer confederation, point out that, as role models go, there can be no comparison between aspiring to play like Beckham and trying to emulate the infinitely more gifted Zinédine Zidane.
Zidane, now retired, also remains an Adidas figure.
- However, whether now is the time to discuss expanding into new areas is a debate without end. The International Football Arena, at which I also spoke, explores the fertile ground between the sport and the business of soccer. The organizers planned Monday's conference long before banks started collapsing - and with them the loans underpinning many of the world's soccer clubs.
- This financial uncertainty inevitably fogs all issues. Chelsea is one of the sponsors of the IFA, but the London club, bankrolled exclusively by the Russian Roman Abramovich, set a trend five years ago. Now 12 clubs in England have foreign ownership. In a twist to the discussion about whether European clubs should be helping India to build a soccer infrastructure, Amit Bhatia, whose father-in-law is part owner of another London club, Queens Park Rangers, said he would be surprised if more wealthy Indians did not buy English clubs.
- "The potential is there," Bhatia said. "And now is the time."
- But Bhatia admitted he saw no young Indian talent to nurture as the iconic figures of the future.
The childhood dream, he knows, is to follow cricket's Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly to riches. Ganguly was apparently a gifted soccer player and even preferred that game before turning into one of cricket's most acclaimed batsmen, up to his final test this week.
- Meanwhile, soccer, introduced into India by the British in the 1870s, is the poor relation. Alan Durante, a businessman who has searched for the Indian soccer hero for 25 years as chairman of Mahindra United, in Mumbai, said that no team in the new Indian Premier League made one rupee out of soccer.
- So the sport, trailing behind cricket, which has hit a gold mine of Bollywood money by reinventing itself for TV, and even behind basketball in overseas investment, has no concerted plan to build itself up.
- No help seems to be coming from any of FIFA's richer nations either.
- Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive, would not discuss rumors that Abramovich, the club owner, had taken a hit in the crash of Russia's commodity markets, but he did say it was unlikely that the club would buy any new players in the January transfer window.
- He also confirmed that Chelsea is reducing its global network of talent scouts from 22 to seven.
- Mindful that FIFA, soccer's international governing body, is trying to impose a quota system that in years to come would mean clubs have to field six homegrown players - a principle far from accepted by the European Union - Chelsea has already begun focusing resources on its academy that trains English youngsters.
- Kenyon spoke of the immediate plan, to win the Champions League, and the long-term plan, under Abramovich, of financial self-sufficiency.
Culling the scouts makes sense. Chelsea already employs at least two international-quality players for every position. It would not take Einstein to spot the few players in the world who might improve the talent now coached at Chelsea by the Brazilian Felipe Scolari.
We heard older administrators onstage in Zurich talking of building slowly, slowly. And we heard brash, young Indians saying they want Bollywood in soccer, and they want it now. Off microphone, even the architects of England's three-year £1.7 billion, or $2.65 billion, global television deal cannot say what happens when that deal expires after 2010.
- Kenyon suspects there will be downward pressure on spending and on player wages. He gave a straight no to any question of Chelsea's investing in Indian club soccer in the near future.
The call to help or explore India came at the time when England's elite are reconsidering how rich or how vulnerable they really are. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, has urged, again and again, that the time has come to waken the "sleeping giants" of China and India. With burgeoning economies and almost half the world's population between them, they might have to help themselves.
- India's soccer is not in the best of health. Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, the minister of information and broadcasting who has been president of the All India Football Association for the past 20 years, is ill. No heir apparent has been nominated. Durante, vice president of the fledgling Indian Premier League, does not see a road ahead paved with gold boots or new stadiums.
- As for China, the only population that dwarfs India, its performance on the soccer field this year has not come anywhere close to matching its 100-medal Olympics. The national team players took an oath on Jan. 1 in which each player recited: "We pledge to advance to the World Cup.
"We swear by death to kill along the bloody road to defend the honor of the motherland and release our youthful dreams."
They were eliminated in round one of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The audience at the conference heard a young, female TV sports presenter, Mayanti Langer, say: "Who are we? We are young India, we love Bollywood, we are flashy, we love our glamour.
"And we want it now."
She had flown halfway across the world to tell the old fogies that.
Maradona to visit Calcutta
Diego Maradona will visit Calcutta on Dec. 6, Shamik Lahiri, a regional lawmaker organizing the trip, said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.
The new Argentina coach will inaugurate a soccer academy and participate in a charity dinner where some of his playing gear is to be auctioned, Lahiri said. IHT

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