By Ajeyo Basu
New Delhi, July 20: India’s track record in football is a long, sorry saga of official ineptitude, corruption and neglect despite the game being hugely popular with a lot of hidden talent across the country. But Anuj Gupta and Vijay Hakari, the business owners of Sudeva Moonlight FC, a city-based club which plays in the second division I-League, are doing their bit to bring about some much needed change — with Spanish help.
Having bought an 85 percent stake in Spanish third division clubs, the Sudeva Moonlight FC owners have embarked on an ambitious project to develop upcoming Indian players. They have brought former Real Madrid player Oscar Rubio — who is now a coach — to select young boys from around the country and give them a chance to train and play in Spain.
“We are the first ever Indian club to buy a club in Spain. I have appointed Oscar to come to India and find talent who can play for our club in Spain.
“Last year, we we opened a company in Switzerland which acquired the Spanish club. We are looking at different options. We visited different parts of Spain — places like Malaga, Madrid, Murcia and Valencia,” Gupta told IANS.
“We found this club which seems to be perfect because the climate is quite mild throughout the year because it is near the sea. It seemed perfect because there the climate is around 23 degrees centigrade throughout the year and it is very close to Valencia which is a big city and a hub of Spanish football,” he added.
“From every aspect it seemed that Indians will be able to adjust to the climate culture, food. Prior to that, I had gone to Germany and Belgium as well. But I thought Spain will be the best option for Indian kids.”
As one of the first steps toward their ambitious project, Sudeva Moonlight FC conducted a countrywide talent search from July 14-20 in the age groups of U-13, U-15, U-18 and U-23.
Conducted in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangaluru, the trials shortlisted a total of 48 kids. While 225 attended the trials in Delhi, 120 budding players attended in Mumbai and 140 turned up in Bengaluru.
“We have a residential academy in Delhi as well. At the moment we are only focussed on getting kids from India. But our plan is to get kids from all over the world. They will train twice a day… and if they are less than 18 years of age they will be studying in schools. If they know Spanish they will study in public schools, if they don’t know Spanish they will study in a multi-lingual school,” Gupta informed.
“For those over 18, we have tied up with an university which is one of the most well-known sports universities. Where they have a curriculum in English related to sports. They will be giving BSC in sports science and masters degree in sports management,” he added.
“I want my footballers to study something related to sports as, when they are playing, they learn about the science of sports as well.”
While the kids came to know about this particular project through social media, Gupta also wants to search out budding players from rural regions.
“I have also gone to the tribal belt of Orissa and selected five tribal boys from there. My partner Vijay Hazari also travels to different places in India to spot talent. We have already visited 25 cities and towns this year,” Gupta said.
“I am currently training a boy from Howrah (West Bengal) named Subho Pal. He is my best trainee right now. He is probably the best player in the U-13 age group in India. He comes from a very poor family. He came to know about Sudeva and came for a trial,” he added.
“He is with us for the last one-and-a-half years. Before that, he was trained by former Mohun Bagan and East Bengal (Nigerian) star Chima Okorie for five years.”
Gupta, however, feels that boys from rural backgrounds should be first given a taste of urban lifestyle in India before sending them to foreign countries.
“Boys from rural backgrounds should first train here and polish up their skills before going abroad. Otherwise they will not be able to adjust in Spain. We cannot send them directly. Boys from the cities have a better chance of adjusting in foreign countries,” he said.
“Oscar has selected two tribal boys from the Orissa trials. But I know that I cannot send them directly to Spain. First they need to get used to the Delhi environment.”
Gupta has high expectations from this venture. But he is apprehensive that finances may prove to be a hurdle in the long run.
“In the first year, I want to take at least 10 kids to the Xàtiva academy. The younger the kids, the better. Let us hope and see,” he said.
“But his programme has to be funded by a corporate group in the long term. Unfortunately, the most talented kids do not come from financially strong backgrounds. There is a cost of training these kids, we also have to give them food and accommodation. It is difficult for us. I am trying to convince some corporates to use their CSR funds to train and sponsor them for a couple of years,” Gupta added.
The road ahead might be difficult, but Gupta is dreaming big.
“I want to make Xàtiva as a hub of Indian football. It is a small town, I want to make it a hub. I have the right to give any kid I want the opportunity to play there,” he said.
“I is very important to bridge the gap between European football and Indian football.”
(Ajeyo Basu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)