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Mining talent: Here science meets soccer

If the beautiful game is all about steel, style and vision, football is slowly and surely getting a toehold in the mining town of Zawar, about 40 kilometres south of the lake city of Udaipur

football Updated: Mar 13, 2019 14:05 IST
Soumitra Bose
Soumitra Bose
New Delhi
Zawar,football,soccer academy
Julio Manuel Segret Mondelo, a UEFA A-License coach who has over 20 years of grassroots experience in various countries including Spain, Norway and India, is part of a strong back-up staff at Zinc Football. (HT Photo)

If the beautiful game is all about steel, style and vision, football is slowly and surely getting a toehold in the mining town of Zawar, about 40 kilometres south of the lake city of Udaipur. That sport has no boundaries, bridges communities and embraces all sections of human life is eloquently reflecting in one of India’s most ambitious football projects aimed at harnessing the grassroots (under 14 years).

Daniel Chode comes from Katihar, Bihar. His father Babulal Chode, is a poor farmer whose financial misfortunes forced him to send Daniel to a missionary school in Kota. Ansai Goyari was born in Assam. He too was sent to a missionary school in Kota as his parents couldn’t afford his education and daily needs. Jokonia Narzary, son of a farmer from Assam, grew up in an orphanage and Bihar’s Himanshu K never found parental guidance after his father died young and mother was forced to spend long hours in the factory to fend for a proper meal a day.

Football is giving these underprivileged kids a new life, a fresh challenge. Sport has made millionaires out of ‘slumdogs’ and soccer, especially, is studded with numerous rags to riches stories.

Barcelona superstar Luis Suarez did not have shoes to play football when he grew up in the streets of Salto in northwestern Uruguay; Manchester United star Alexis Sanchez’s mother took up cleaning jobs in schools in Chile to make ends meet. Sanchez washed cars to provide the extra income. And the world’s richest player, Neymar, who was presumed dead by his parents after a horrific car crash when he was just four months old, grew up in a cramped room in his grandfather’s house.

In a family of seven kids in Ivory Coast, ex-Manchester City medio Yaya Toure was 10 when he got his first football shoes. Carlos Tevez’ childhood was blighted by crime and hardship and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s father was an alcoholic that forced the Swedish superstar to steal a bike to ride to training.

But the likes of Aman Khan, Rajeshwar and Gaurav Meena are lucky. Their lives are being galvanized at the residential football academy run by Hindustan Zinc at Zawar. And Rajasthan’s rather unstructured football topography is getting a semblance of direction.

Project Zinc Football, that went full steam in September 2018 with 31 kids in the age bracket of 14-15, has already made an impact. Most kids representing Rajasthan or DAV School in national or state age-group tournaments are from the academy. What structured training, backed by science, can do to kids whose skill sets are flexible enough to be moulded is there to see already.

“It’s a good initiative and with the infrastructure they have, the academy can really give football in Rajasthan an image makeover. But growth has to be consistent and monitored,” observed Dr Shaji Prabhakaran, FIFA’s former regional director.

Most football clubs or projects in India suffer from bad investments. Zinc Football should not face such issues. The group’s promoters, Vedanta, already support a successful football academy in Goa and encouraged by the passion for the game across the country, have plans to tap talent in Sambalpur in Odisha.

“We perhaps have the biggest grassroots football programme in the country. More than 6,000 kids are being encouraged to play football and that’s one of our marquee projects,” said Annanya Agarwal, president, Vedanta Sports.

“The objective to provide a feeder system, first to the state and then to the country is the real goal. It’s not that we never thought of getting into mainstream club football but it’s not in our plans to buy our way into Indian soccer,” explained Agarwal.

The annual budget for the Zawar academy – estimated at close to Rs 13 crores -- would probably run a team in the premier tier of the I-League but this could be money well spent.

Investing in a scientific coaching model called F-Cube Technology – a 360 degree analysis programme based on real time data of a player – and run by professional coaches hired by strategy and implementation partners, the FootballLink, are part of the infrastructure on offer.

One of the oldest zinc mines in the world, Zawar is a national geological monument. With new exploration and investments, the mines continue to produce record quantities of zinc and lead. The young footballers have the potential to add some silver lining.

First Published: Mar 13, 2019 13:12 IST