Will City Football Group having a takeover in India change the footballing scenario forever?

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Will City Football Group having a takeover in India change the footballing scenario forever?

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Subhayan Dutta


India are taking giant strides towards making their presence felt in world football and the potential involvement of City Football Group could be the final push the country needs. A closer study at the Group’s other franchises in the last decade hints at massive things to come for Indian football.

The ISL game between Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC earlier this month saw a surprise face in the crowd. City Football Group CEO, Ferran Soriano, had come to watch the game and after the match, was given a tour of the JRD Tata Sports Complex Stadium by manager Steve Coppell. The former Economy Vice President of Barcelona later expressed that their plan of one club per continent could extend to more than a club and India is seen as a landmine of talent.

India’s massive response to the Under-17 World Cup has surely worked as a catalyst. The event became the most attended and the highest scoring tournament ever with the attendance touching the million mark, which forced the world to stand up and take notice. The match between England and Spain at the Salt Lake Stadium saw an attendance of 66684 that was consequently logged at total attendance of 1,347,143 across six host venues. It was about 116,167 more than the earlier record attendance of 1,230,976, which was set in the first ever U-17 World Cup in China in 1985.

With India’s craze for the game now well established and exciting talents like Jeakson Thounaojam coming up the ranks, effective coaching could go a long way. Though no details of CFG’s takeover has come out as of now, a closer look at how their previous takeovers have panned out surely gives us a hint of things to come for Indian football. The Group has EPL club Manchester City, MLS franchise New York City FC, A-League outfit Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos, and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, under their umbrella. While all the sides are going through their different stages of growth, the inter-group management is what has been exemplary about CFG’s business model. 

The Manchester outfit is the biggest example of their model that has transformed themselves from being a noisy neighbour to the best football club in England at the moment. New York City FC would also be a great example of their success, which needed CFG to shell out a massive $80million to just enter the MLS in 2015. After it was well set-up, the arrivals of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa drew the crowd.

However, CFG hasn’t only been about splurging their never-ending money on big names but has also established a brilliant scouting system at its core that brings out some of the best talents from the unlikeliest of places. South America’s Bruno Fornaroli would be one of the best examples of it. He had moved to Europe along with Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani to make it big. However, after failed stints with Sampdoria and Panathinaikos, the uncapped Uruguayan was delivered to CFG following an impressive scout report. A closer study by their academy deemed him fit for Melbourne City, who until then hadn’t heard of the player. It has been two years since then where Fornaroli has scored 43 goals in 56 games and is regarded as one of the company’s best signings.

A more popular example would be of Yangel Herrera at New York or Bobby Duncan to Manchester City. Duncan, Steven Gerrard’s cousin, was signed from under the nose of Liverpool before he went to become the first player at the international level for England to score a hat-trick against Brazil for the under-16 team in November 2016. Herrera has been drawing comparisons with Patrick Vieira for a while now and has been one of Manchester City’s most promising prospects but City’s scout decided that NYFC would be his best platform for improvement.  

It is, hence, unimaginable to what distance the likes of Jackichand Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalruatthara and other could have gone under such expert guidance. However, the future looks bright for the upcoming generation, who would not only play under great scouts and analysts but also share the cream of this elite system. The marvellous interlink between the clubs is bound to be a huge help for Indian players, who could one-day be exposed to the same tactics as Guardiola uses in City or Patrick Vieira in NYFC. 

The clubs under CFG, although operates with autonomy, go through regular checks that help them to be collaborative in the decisions taken and ensured that it benefits everyone. Hence, if teams in Australia try new set-pieces, the management ensures that the video content can be utilized at will by Manchester City, New York, and Yokohama as they share coaches, scouts and even press officers.

Apart from bringing in one of the best football facilities in the world, the City Group has also claimed that have a huge hand in improving the community surrounding their sporting facility, which would be a massive incentive for India. Bringing in former Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal winger, Brian Markwood from Nike, was one of the quintessential recruitments by CFG. The man was crucial to impart the work and space culture surrounding the academy, where the staff took pride in their place of work instead of seeing it as a stepping stone for a better future elsewhere.

Hence, a CFG academy in a city like Jamshedpur could easily become one of the best employment models, not only for the sport but for the country as well. India’s biggest gain in this project, however, would be City’s initiative of parenting privilege to their academy players. It had come into effect after one of their most promising talents, Michael Johnson, had decided to retire at 24 after playing just 45 games in Premier League. It had prompted City to find an approach for players who couldn’t find peace of mind in the game for the long run.

Football’s history is littered with such examples and with the sport not being one of the primary products of India, chances are such instances would be aplenty. Players like that could really find refuge in City’s private education initiative. Hence, if one couldn’t make it big as a footballer, he/she could avoid being a drop-out and have a future elsewhere. With India now eyeing a bid for the FIFA U-20 World Cup that takes place next year, CFG’s arrival could be the inception of something special for Indian football.

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