Interview with Anurag Khilnani, Co-Founder of Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools
In an age where playgrounds are shrinking and school fees are heading northwards, Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools are a class apart. They offer special schemes for worthy candidates, from economically backward classes and consider it their mission to provide training and education on par with the International standards, for children of the age group 5-16 years across India.
The school may go by Bhaichung’s name, but behind its name there are two other co-founders without whom BBFS would not have been possible. They are Anurag Khilnani and Kishore Taid, friends in college and now colleagues at work. Both are alumni of the prestigious IIT Delhi Institute of Engineering and also investment bankers previously, at Morgan Stanley and UBS respectively. In Sportskeeda’s informal tete-a-tete with him, Anurag Khilnani spoke about his dream project.
Harmit : When and why did Bhaichung Bhutia decide to set up BBFS?
Anurag : Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools was conceptualised in early 2010. While its motto, which is to promote football at the grass-root level and uplift the coaching standards practiced across India was never in doubt, the structure took a few iterations to get right. Having gained so much from the game, Bhaichung wanted to give back to the sport by facilitating the education and training of Indian coaches in the latest techniques and making these methods available to every child at the grassroots who possesses a passion for football.
Harmit : Both you and Kishore have IIT degrees and jobs at reputed MNC’s. But what made you guys quit your positions and dive into football?
Anurag : Both Kishore and I have been football fanatics since childhood. Although we never played professionally, the both of us have both captained our college football team at different times. Personally having experienced first-hand the effect of having a good coach at a young age and having witnessed the coaching practices currently, our area of focus was never in doubt.
After graduating from IIT Delhi, we constantly discussed ways in which we could contribute to Indian football and we didn’t think twice when this opportunity of working with Bhaichung Bhutia, the most talismanic footballer India has ever produced, arose.
Harmit : How many schools are enrolled under this programme?
Anurag : Schools actually do not enroll for the programme although we do seek academic institutions that are passionate about football to utilise their infrastructure to set training centers that are open to children from all schools. BBFS is named as such because we focus on other parts of the child’s personality such as communication skills, imbibing leadership and instilling inquisitiveness, so we believe it is more than an academy.
We have set up 3 centers, with 2 more to come up soon in NCR (National Capital Region). The first of these centers came up at Ryan International School, Vasant Kunj in December 2010.
Harmit : Football is immensely popular in Kolkata and Goa, but you chose Delhi as your base. What was the reason behind your decision?
Anurag : We definitely plan to expand to the hubs of football such as Kolkata and Goa pretty soon and Delhi is just a starting point. That said, it is a myth that there is a dearth of talent and interest at the grass-roots level in Delhi and adjoining areas. We have seen stars such as Sunil Chhetri emerge from this part of the country.
Harmit : What do you offer the children who enroll into this programme?
Anurag : Our aim is to offer the children who enroll for the programme the access to a world-class coaching environment, with access to quality coaching, equipment and infrastructure. In addition we work on improving their personalities, health and nutrition apart from our focus on football. The coaching is personalized with adequate focus on each child.
From a football standpoint, we also provide them with exposure and guide the ones who are old and talented enough through their progress from being an amateur footballer to a professional footballer, helping them in all aspects of their careers including facilitating trials at top Indian and in the future, European clubs.
Harmit : How closely do you work with the PE staff of an associate school? Do you share your inputs with them?
Anurag : Definitely, we offer to induct their coaching staff in our programme and share all the knowledge and expertise that we have to each academic institute where we base our training centers.
Harmit : Do you have any preferences, based on the age group of the children, you work with?
Anurag : We work with children from the age of 5-19 years. We don’t have a preference but it is definitely better to start being coached from a young age. Football is a global market and given that children start at a young age abroad and have access to quality coaching we need to start early as well if we are to strive to reach a comparable level.
Harmit : Take us through your work force, which has been the engine of BBFS.
Anurag : We have a team of 30 qualified Indian coaches consisting of AFC License holders, ex-players and graduates with sports sciences and physical education degrees. Each of our staff is chosen after a grueling screening process which includes a month long induction period where we introduce them to our coaching methodologies and culture and test their commitment towards football, coaching aptitude and work ethic.
Harmit : Tell us more about your tie up with Football By Carlos Queiróz (FBCQ). What attracted you to FBCQ and made you choose them as a partner?
Anurag : Choosing FBCQ as a partner was a no-brainer. We share a common philosophy and a long-term commitment towards improving grass-root level football in India. In terms of technical expertise, Carlos Queiroz is one of the most acclaimed coaches in world football today, particularly when it comes to youth development.
He has guided Portugal to 2 World Youth Championships! His team of coaches share and follow his coaching philosophy and structure. We have 2 coaches from Portugal who stay in Delhi all year round, coaching the kids and mentoring our coaches to facilitate their progress as professional football coaches.
Harmit : Have you come across any players at BBFS, who can survive European football and make a name for themselves?
Anurag : The talent we see day in and day out keeps us motivated to work harder each day! We already have 4-5 kids across ages (one is just 6 yrs old!), who, in our Portuguese coaches’ opinion, can play in any academy in Portugal! It just underlines we have a great responsibility in nurturing their talent so that they can progress and reach their potential.
Harmit : Many thanks Anurag for taking the time to speak with us and congratulations on the great work so far.
Edited by Leela Prasad