English Premier League giants Liverpool launched their first official venture in India on Wednesday, and signalled their intention to build more centres in the country by 2012. Club stalwarts Ian Rush and Steve McMahon, who shared the stage in the late 1980's, revealed plans to introduce 'the Liverpool way' to Indian school kids very soon. The first academy will be set up at the Genesis Global School, an elite private school in Noida, while the club is looking to announce another tie-up with a Delhi school in the coming week. Named the Steve McMahon Football Academy (SMFA ), the set-up will see a number of coaches coming down from Liverpool in the initial phase.
Eventually, training will be imparted to local coaches. "The national team may be currently languishing at 158th place in the FIFA rankings, but there is a vast reservoir of talent that needs to be groomed at the right age, and we hope to provide the platform," said McMahon, the chief mentor of the project, which is partly funded by the Carnoustie Group.
SMFA envisages setting up a total of four centres in the Delhi/NCR region. There are further plans to establish centres in Mumbai, Goa, the north-east and the south. "Apart from technical excellence, we will also focus on key development areas like nutrition, fitness and overall personality development," said Steven Turner, the head of Liverpool's International Football Academy.
The Academy will be functional from the first week of October and hopes to enroll about 500 kids in different age groups at each of its two centres. The details of the enrolment process will be given on the website smfaindia.com soon.
The former midfielder said the project was not 'money-driven'. "We don't expect to earn much from the nominal fees. Profits will be invested in infrastructure. It's going to take time but we are not here for a quick-fix," he said. "We are here for a long time."
McMahon added, "As a TV pundit, I get a huge number of e-mails from this part of the world. Ninety per cent of the Asians support either Liverpool or Manchester United according to the TV ratings. And although we probably have more fans in China than India, still there is a lot of support here." "If you support football financially the way you do cricket, it will start to show soon," Rush joined in.
Thoughts on this? Personally, I think it's a good idea for a number of reasons.
There are obviously a number of benefits to gaining traction in India. Firstly, only Blackburn and Manchester United really have any sort of presence in India, so it's a huge opportunity to gain mind share in India, especially with a huge population. In footballing and financial terms, the number of potential players that Liverpool could bring through is huge and if just one future Indian player were to become a "world class player", then the advertising and branding opportunities are enormous (think on the scale of Tendulkar and Dhoni, in terms of popularity).
The downside to this, IMO, is that Football has to gain a significant amount of popularity in a country which is dominated largely by Cricket and Hockey. The first academy is being opened at a private school (hardly representative of the majority of Indian children) and it may take a while for the other academies to be opened.
At any rate, Football is beginning to gain popularity in India (there is a friendly between Argentina and Venezuela in Kolkata on 2nd September), it is just a question of how long it will take before these academies pay off.