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'Seeking talent and business'

Ian Cameron thinks it wouldn't be overstating things if Sheffield United's three-year tie-up with Tata Football Academy (TFA) were equated with the '80s phenomenon of European clubs beginning to scour Africa for talent.

sports Updated: Aug 12, 2010 01:01 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Ian Cameron thinks it wouldn't be overstating things if Sheffield United's three-year tie-up with Tata Football Academy (TFA) were equated with the '80s phenomenon of European clubs beginning to scour Africa for talent. The club's Canadian-born vice-president is also optimistic that by 2013, a TFA cadet can wear Sheffield United's red-and-white stripes.

"Not bad if we had the first crack at players coming out of India and making it to English football," Cameron told HT on Wednesday. "And at the TFA, I saw some big, strong kids who we think have a lot of potential. And if they really make it big, they can be sold to Manchester United."

Cameron broke into a smile as he finished the sentence but didn't forget to mention that The Blades --- which is what the club is called – sold two boys for £10m to Arsenal two years ago. "That helped pay a few bills."

With a debt of around £46m, Sheffield United are one of the better-managed clubs in England. "I don't know how a business can be run where 90 per cent of the budget goes in to paying wages. A lot of clubs are on the precipice and though the banks are still willing to service loans of big clubs, if one of them goes under, we will have a situation. It is said to see 100-year-old clubs going into administration."

Salary caps are one way out of this mess, Cameron said though he isn't sure whether the plan would have too many takers.

Cameron isn't sure why Sheffield United chairman Kevin McCabe pushed for a deal with TFA but said there could be a connection in both cities making steel. "Also, Kevin is into property development and I am sure he also sees India as an opportunity to do business," said Cameron, McCabe's neighbour, who started visiting the club "12-13 years ago" before coming on board last year.

Sheffield United's buying Chinese club Chendu Wuniu, which they renamed Chengdu Blades and Ferencvaros have links with McCabe sensing business opportunities.

"Like building Ferencvaros' stadium in Budapest and probing the possibilities of real estate development there," Cameron said.

And though football is the driver of this deal, it will be a win-win situation if The Blades get Indian investment to their Bramall Lane stadium. "Kevin's wealthy (he has given the club a soft loan of £26m) but not wealthy enough to compete with Roman Abramovich (the Chelsea owner)… I think Sheffield United have underachieved and are a club big enough to be in Premiership mid-table."

Demoted in 2007, they are some distance from getting there, having finished eighth in The Championship (first division) last season. By way of wooing investors though, a partnership with an academy run by the Tatas certainly isn't a disadvantage.

Cameron stays in Scarborough, a little resort town between London and Scotland immortalised by a Simon and Garfunkel song used in Dustin Hoffman's debut film The Graduate (1967).

In Deff Leppard's Joe Elliott and bandmate Rick Allen, they have huge fans. Naturally, the club's hopeful of being on song with this deal.