Arsenal ‘hunts’ for talent in Indian football clubs

June 16th, 2008 - 9:32 am ICT by IANS  

By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) At a time Asian business tycoons are eyeing to take over foreign soccer clubs, the English Premier League clubs are looking towards Indian football. Some are on a talent hunt here these days. After Bayern Munich showed interest in setting up an academy in Kolkata, top English Premier League team Arsenal is looking at India as a prospective nursery for tapping potential.

These famous clubs are seeing if they could with their methods wake up what FIFA chief Sepp Blatter sees as the “sleeping giant” - Indian football. They believe professional Indian clubs need to play an important role in chalking out a sound youth development programme.

Arsenal coaches Paul Shipwright and Martin Davis were in the country for three weeks for a talent hunt organised by Tata Tea and seemed to have been highly impressed with the talent they saw.

The visiting coaches had a tough time in narrowing the list down to 16 best schoolboys in the under-15 age group for a month’s training stint in July at the hallowed turf of the Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal. The young footballers will get to play at the Arsenal International Soccer Festival in London.

The two said it was really tough to prune the list, but at the same time felt that a lot of work needs to be done right from the grassroots level if India has to improve its world ranking.

“We had a tough time in finalising the list from a pool of 30 talented youngsters and it was a heartbreaking exercise. Those who couldn’t make the cut were as good as those who made it,” Shipwright told IANS.

Shipwright, also the Arsenal school soccer franchise manager, was disappointed that talented footballers at the junior level were not getting their due.

“After what we saw we can say that there is a lot of talent available in this country, but I am sorry to say that they are not getting proper guidance. If they don’t get training at the right time, no matter howsoever talented they are, they will never grow into skilful players,” he added.

Shipwright pointed out that there is a lack of qualified coaches in the country and it is very important to train the coaches first on the right lines.

“If you don’t have good coaches then you can’t have good players. See the successful football countries, they have qualified coaches who have gone through the professional grind.”

Asked if Arsenal is going to come up with a training programme for the Indian coaches, Shipwright said: “We are in discussion with our corporate partners here and I hope we can have a coaches’ camp in the near future.”

Organisers Tata Tea also felt that it was a great learning experience for the Indian coaches, who helped Shipwright and Davis in selecting the talented from all the five zones of the country.

“Now when the boys come back after training at Arsenal, then the Indian coaches will take care of them,” said Sushant Das, deputy general manager (marketing) of Tata Tea.

Asked why they associated themselves with Arsenal, Das said: “We short-listed three clubs of which two were Spanish. But the English clubs are well known for their youth development programmes and that is the main reason why we went ahead for Arsenal.”

Shipwright strongly felt that professional clubs need to play an important role in the youth development programme in the country.

“Now we have 16 boys who will get some top-class football lessons at Arsenal. But what will happen to them when they return home is the big question. These guys must get a chance to play for the clubs and they should soon graduate to the first team,” he said.

“I believe there is a professional league in India and it is high time for the clubs to have their own academies to build their bench strength. That’s what we do in England and that is why the Premier League is the best in the world.”

In other words, what Shipwright says is corporate backing is a must for any sport to thrive.

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