Update 11th June 2014 : The name of the club has been changed to Chennai City FC.
At 27, Rohit Ramesh is brimming with ambition. And he has the drive and the energy to fulfil it. Rohit is the new owner of Nethaji SC, currently playing in the first division of Chennai football and one of the city’s oldest private clubs. An avid Arsenal supporter, he represents a new generation of young entrepreneurs investing in local clubs – a crucial first step to raising the standard of Indian football.
In buying a football club, the University of Edinburgh graduate is living out a personal dream.
“Since my childhood, I’ve wanted to buy a football club,” Rohit said in an interview with Sportskeeda. “I thought of buying a foreign club, but there no one would know you. Here people know me. I also want to change football in India and get it to a good level. The AIFF has got the U-17 World Cup in India and the U-20, so this is a good time to get in. Interest is high, especially in Tamil Nadu.”
To purchase Nethaji SC, Rohit had to cough up approx Rs 7 lakhs. Running costs are projected at an additional Rs 30 lakhs a year, but he isn’t complaining. His excitement is palpable as he explains his choice. “Nethaji want to develop players from the soil. They want passion. They weren’t looking for commercial purposes. I took into consideration its rich values and how prestigious it is. Lots of clubs do not have proper documents, Nethaji is one that does. The ground is a problem, though. Nethaji does not have its own ground; the players train in Perambur.”
“It is important to get them back to the senior division [the top tier of Chennai football]. Then we’ll take it from there.” As a first step, Rohit has retained the core team of 18 players and legalized their contracts.
Rohit expresses concern about the state of TN football. “Here players become pros and leave for elsewhere. It’s interesting to note that they play a lot of 7-a-sides here, not too many 11s. We have good homegrown players, but then their coaches tell them to go where their prospects are brighter. I wanted to help change that.”
He is equally forthright about why the club has gone downhill. “I honestly feel that the club was under the control of people who were very old, and did not want to sell it. In their due wisdom, they lacked financial management. I recently visited the Nehru Stadium. The facilities they have there are amazing. We need to have more such places across TN in order to develop good players.”
Has he co-opted any sponsors so far? “Not yet. I’m doing legal stuff. Nethaji will become my company and not an NGO. I’m trying to bring in a business perspective and professionalize the setup. Right now, the head coach is also the trainer. We need to look at each and every aspect of the game. Now the coach just says to the players, do weights and gymming. A defender needs a different set of exercises from a midfielder. I have some contacts from England and will use their abilities, how they look at football as a sport.”
“Off the field as well, it’s very important. This kid knows how to play football, but he doesn’t know how to think about the game and how to condition himself. We need to change all that.”
And, as a Gunner, what does he think of their title chances this season? He laughs and plays it safe. “They’re playing well, but it’s only halfway through the season. If our important players stay fit, who knows?”
Update 11th June 2014 : The name of the club has been changed to Chennai City FC.Published 26 Dec 2013, 18:12 IST