Kerala Evergreen FC team to become first I-League club with foreign owners, to follow Athletic Bilbao model

Kerala Evergreen FC's crest
Kerala Evergreen FC's crest

Kerala Evergreen FC are the newest entrants into the Indian football scene and are set to play in the I-League, one of India's two top division leagues, next season.

The club will be based in Kerala's capital city of Trivandrum and will be part of the I-League 2017/18 should their bid to enter the league become successful.

In the process, Kerala Evergreen FC could become the first I-League club to have majority foreign ownership in the form of the investment of a Singaporean company, MySports Management and an Indian company, Liwing. Incidentally, they would also become the first team from Thiruvananthapuram to play in the I-League.

Jiri Cerny, the CEO of MySport, has set his sights on bringing international standard facilities and personnel to Indian football - the state of Kerala in particular - with Kerala Evergreen FC. With the new club, Cerny also aims to emulate the model followed by Spanish La Liga club Athletic Bilbao in exclusively allowing homegrown players to play for the team.

Kerala Evergreen FC's entry into the Indian football scene will be a breath of fresh air in Indian football, with their ethos of promoting football in the country starting with giving more opportunities to footballers, kids and seniors alike, from the footballing hotbed of Kerala.

"We would like to follow the model of Athletic Bilbao in India since we believe that the football potential in Kerala is immense. We will have our first team and reserve team comprising players solely from Kerala in the future.

"But, first of all, our aim is the development of football with academy and grassroots programs. With 33 million people, Kerala is a very big catchment area and it is our priority now to work with football in Kerala," Cerny stated.

With their introduction to the dynamics of Indian football, Kerala Evergreen FC promise to bring about a change in the general perception of Indian football clubs. While getting up to speed in matters related to the first team is the target for most newly-established football clubs, Kerala Evergreen FC's priorities are different.

They are so into the process of developing Indian football that the club have already set about putting up their academy program for the young players, and Cerny also revealed that there are plans to send the club's young players abroad for better exposure.

"Immediately, we would set up the academy program for the players, and within one year, we will set up the grassroots program across Kerala.

"We aim to send players developed by us to teams in England and Spain in the future to get the experience," he added.

That being said, I-League clubs are not built out of academy players and kids, and Kerala Evergreen FC are no different.

Plans for the immediate future are already afoot, with the club currently in the process of recruiting experts from Europe on the management side and roping in the best available talent for the roles of manager, coaches, footballers and ancillary support staff. With a budget of Rs 20 crores, Kerala Evergreen FC could even compete financially with the likes of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

"We are already scouting players for our first team and 75 percent of that is already done. We received the Kerala Football Association (KFA) only this week. We are currently talking to multiple players and in about two months, we will decide the first team. Initially, the team will comprise both foreign and Indian players but in two-three years, we will use only Kerala-based players," Cerny said.

However, the overarching vision for Kerala Evergreen remains to build an entity that is self-sustaining and one that pushes Indian football forward with the help of a football-crazy state like Kerala. That, as Cerny explained, will be a difficult challenge for a club with foreign owners.

"This is a big challenge for us as foreign owners, even the KFA said that on Monday. But, football is the same everywhere and the most important thing for me is the development of players.

"To bring something new to Indian football is our aim, to create a self-sustaining business model is what we aspire. And on the pitch, to be as competitive as possible both in India and in Asia," Cerny concluded.

With all their plans, which also include introducing a Women's team for the I-League, in place, Kerala Evergreen FC promise to upset the status quo of Indian football and bring a change in the country's footballing landscape.

It is easy to see why they are on the right track as far as their success is concerned considering their stated aims. At the moment, Kerala Evergreen FC's establishment as a top-flight Indian club ensures that there is nothing better than being a football fan in Kerala.

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Edited by Abhijit Bharali
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