Tuesday, April 28, 2015

U19 I-League: Validating Some Beliefs

I was in Pune last week to watch a few U19 I-League matches at the Liverpool International Football Academy DSK Shivajians.  It was a quick visit as I was only at the Academy for less than 24 hours however I’m extremely pleased that I chose to make the trip as my experience at the tournament validated a few beliefs I had regarding the development of football in India. 

Validating my beliefs is important for me as too many people in this industry just make random statements about the development of the sport in conversations, at conferences and in the media, not because they know it’s true, but because they heard it from some other so called “expert.” India is a unique country and I know that one must actually see, touch, taste or feel things before they can be sure about anything as theory or speculation is just well packaged noise in my book. 

So here are the 3 beliefs which were validated for me:

Belief #1: An intelligent football investor should choose to invest in infrastructure and youth development – DSK Group Executive Director, Shirish Kulkarni, chose wisely when he decided to hold off on buying directly into the I-League back in 2013 and put his money into building a world class residential academy.  Already within a little over a year, LIFA-DSK Shivajians has firmly established itself as one of the best places to develop and compete within India.  He now has hard assets in the form of infrastructure and players while many of the I-League and ISL clubs can’t claim the same – even though the amount invested within the period doesn’t vary much. 

The view from the Academy hostel room I was staying in
Belief #2: With quality coaching and infrastructure, Indian players can have a chance to reach their full potential – Less than a year ago, LIFA-DSK selected 64 players to serve as the first batch of the Academy.  I remember meeting the boys back in June 2014 and they were a group of dis-jointed individuals from all over India wondering if they made the right choice to leave their hometowns to live in Pune.  Now in April 2015, under the tutelage of 2 quality coaches from Liverpool FC and first class infrastructure, these boys have become a team of men who have beat some of the top clubs in the country. I’m confident that over the next few years, LIFA-DSK will replace Tata Football Academy as the go to destination for I-League and ISL clubs to find their next crop of players.
LIFA-DSK technical staff 
LIFA-DSK coach Michael Rice in action
Belief #3: Players from the North East are a cut above the rest of India – I watched LIFA-DSK vs AIFF Elite Academy and Pune FC vs Salgaocar FC and couldn’t believe the number of players from the North East of India on the pitch.  I’m not sure the reason why, whether it’s genetic, a cultural phenomenon or the fact that football is the number one sport in the North East, but there is something special about North Eastern players especially those coming out of Mizoram and Manipur.  LIFA-DSK alone fields 8 North Easterners in their starting lineup which is quite impressive.
So that’s it. I know that these beliefs may not seem groundbreaking or earth shattering, but they certainly help build my case for continued strategic investment into the development of the sport within the country. 

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