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Vision India for English clubs

"India has a knowledgeable football audience, young population and is big enough for more than one sport," Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon said. A report by Dhiman Sarkar.

sports Updated: Nov 12, 2008 00:33 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

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.