Fifty-eight goals in 13 matches. That’s 4.4 goals every match. Fourteen-yearold Shubho Paul’s strike rate in the recently-concluded AIFF Youth League Football Tournament could make the legendary Gerd Muller sit up and take notice.
The prolific German striker of the 60s holds the record for most goals per game averages. ‘The Bomber,’ as he was nicknamed, scored 34 goals in 35 games for Bayern Munich – that’s 0.97 goals per match, roughly one-fifth of what Paul scored this year.
If Howrah boy Shubho manages to keep up his form, he will soon be on a plane to Spain to train with Olimpic De Xativa, a club dating back to the 1930s.
This is because Shubho plays for Sudeva Moonlight FC, a team owned by the Delhibased Sudeva Residential Football School. Sudeva (an unlikely name for a football club, roughly translating as ‘good teacher’ from Sanskrit) acquired 85% in the third division Spanish club last month.
Their grand plan — to form a soccer team that would represent India in the 2030 FIFA World Cup. “We decided to buy a foreign club when we saw the practice session of the U-17 Colombian team on our grounds a few months ago. We were pretty convinced, our kids will improve only if we give them overseas exposure,” says Anuj Gupta, founder, Sudeva FC.
Scoff if you will, but Olimpic de Xativa has close to 250 players and 15 teams (in varying age groups) donning the clubs white and white jersey. There haven’t been many memorable victories in the recent past — if you count out the drawn game against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey of 2013.
“We could not buy a club in the UK because most clubs are expensive there…. We narrowed down to Belgium, Spain and Germany. Belgium and Germany would be very cold for our kids; so we chose Spain,” reasons Gupta.
Xativa, a small town in Valencia, is home to the club that Sudeva acquired by opening a subsidiary corporate entity in Switzerland. For this part of the deal, Gupta and his partner Vijay Hakari roped in another friend, Manan Adlakha, as investor.
The founders, however, were not very forthcoming about the price. “We paid crores for a stake in Xativa… European clubs don’t come cheap,” was all Gupta would reveal.
BUENAVENTURA, IS IT?
This is not the first time an Indian entity has owned a football club in Europe. Back in 2010, Pune-based poultry giant Venky’s acquired 99.9% of English club Blackburn Rovers. However, the Indian owners could not manage it properly, resulting in relegation from the premier league.
The Sudeva founders are aware of the pitfalls and their plan is perceptibly different. Sudeva hopes to use Olimpic Xativa as a launching pad for their Indian students. “We’ll take some 20 players to Spain this year… We’ll train them there and get them more match experience,” says Gupta.
This is critical because Indian footballers – especially in the lower age categories – do not get enough matches to play. Take, for instance, the U-13 category. The best players get about 15-18 competitive matches every year in contrast to European junior clubs, where footballers get to play 45-60 matches every season.
“Lesser number of matches is one of our shortcomings,” admits Gupta. “If we give good training, proper diet and hydration, rest and treatment and match exposure, we’ll be able to line up a good football team in a few years’ time,” adds Hakari.
Sudeva’s Indian players who go to Spain and perform well there would be admitted to a British school – to keep up their academics. Senior players would be given an opportunity to join the Catholic University of Murcia to pursue higher studies, along with playing football.
“We’ve made all arrangements for our kids going to Spain. They’ll not lack anything… I’d be really happy if we manage to get one Indian player play the La Liga in five years’ time,” says a hopeful Gupta.
Former India striker Baichung Bhutia, who played for India between 1995 and 2011 and now helms the Baichung Bhutia Football School chain, has similar views. “If you keep talented football players in the right environment (at the right age), they have the potential to become world-class players,” he says. “Residential football academies provide that right environment… apart from training, the academy takes care of the players’ diet, rest and recuperation (from injuries).”
WORK & PLAY
There are close to 50 residential sport academies in India – a few funded by the government and the majority managed by private entrepreneurs or sports clubs. The ones run by private entrepreneurs are mostly self-financed – that is, parents pay for their wards’ residential football coaching, lodging and general academics.
Most private residential ports schools also have scholarship programmes where talented players from impoverished backgrounds are taken on. These players are either sponsored by the school or by a wealthy patron of the school.
The likes of Sudeva charge anywhere between Rs 2.5-4 lakh per year. They also have tie-ups with schools and colleges for the players to pursue education.
“Funding is a big problem for us… We spent close to Rs 4,500 per month per player on diet alone. If we can expand the budget a little more, we’ll be able to do a lot more for these children,” says Gupta.
Sudeva gets “moderate financial support” from a few corporates such as Apollo Tyres (for player kits), DS Group’s Le Marche (groceries) and SpiceJet (player travel assistance).
When Gupta and Hakari decided to set up Sudeva in 2014, the Baptist Church Trust Association (in Civil Lines, north Delhi) leased out 7 acres of barren backyard to build residential units, two eleven-a-side football pitches, one artificial turf pitch, six tennis courts and four cricket nets – mostly floodlit and with CCTV cameras. Gupta, a London-based corporate lawyer, and Hakari, owning a water recycling business, seeded the project.
“Several U-17 World Cup teams practised on Sudeva grounds,” says IM Vijayan, striker in the Indian squad from 1989 to 2004. “Skilled players are coached in residential sport schools world over… the school takes full responsibility for them. This is how great players are born. India needs 2-3 well-managed residential sport schools in every state,” Vijayan adds.
AN INDIAN LINE-UP
Residential sport schools scout for talent pan-India. Defenders come from Punjab, Kashmir, Kerala, Haryana and Rajasthan, where children are taller.
Wingers come mostly from the hills. “Children from the hills have a higher number of white blood cells… they’re genetically better equipped to run and cover the ground. They don’t get tired easily,” explains Gupta.
Midfielders mostly come from educated “scholarly” families. “Midfielders are the playmakers. They plan and pace the game … Children from educated, working-class families make good midfielders,” he says.
Strikers and forwards mostly come from metros and top-tier cities. “City-bred children are more selfish; they’re hunger for glory and are extroverts. If trained well, they turn out to be good strikers,” is Gupta’s explanation.
Most well-managed schools have enough coaches, physiotherapists, masseurs and dieticians as support staff. Sudeva also employs a yoga instructor to keep the students mentally strong and focused.
Their quest is not for the 18-carat Jules Rimet gold trophy. Their hunt is only for a decent shot at the biggest ‘Cup of Life.’
Source: Economic Times