If organizers are to be believed, the Indian Super League (ISL) has brought about ‘the birth of a footballing nation’. Quoting Neeta Ambani, Founding Chairperson, Football Sports Development, IMG Reliance, “ISL hopes to act as a foundation in creating an ecosystem to nurture talent and make our own national football heroes, through its ambitious grassroots development programme.”
Whether or not ISL will succeed in its intentions only time will tell, but the tradition of football which it claims to have heralded in India is actually older than what most of us know. Clubs like Mohun Bagan initiated the football revolution in India way back in 1911, and even today they remain the torch bearers of Indian football, despite being slightly overshadowed by the glamour-rich ISL.
Infusion of money and glamour into Indian football is definitely one of the best things to have happened to the game lately. This new fast-paced phenomenon has managed to grab a lot of attention and eyeballs.
A lost ‘future of Indian football’
However, there also exist stories of certain institutions and individuals who have been devoted to the betterment of the game for quite some time now, and yet today they cry out for reorganization. These are the people who embarked on a journey with the intention of developing a game in India at a time when it had no fandom in the country, and today when the nation actually celebrates the birth of a footballing nation, they cry to keep their existence alive.
One such institution is the Mohun Bagan SAIL Football Academy (MBSFA), Dugrapur.
Established in the year 2002 with the tagline, ‘Future of Indian Football’, the Mohun Bagan SAIL Football Academy is the only residential football academy of West Bengal. At a time when the development of football was at a stalemate, Mohun Bagan spearheaded an effort to restore the lost glory of Indian football by establishing this promising academy.
For a healthy footballing culture in India, we need to nurture and harvest the best of talents from across the country. MBSFA in that regard has left no stones unturned with the arrangement of all facilities that one needs to develop football at the grassroot level.
The coaching team is led by Brazilian Luis Greco, while Portuguese Roy Berreto honours the post of technical director. With dieticians and doctors available round the clock and brilliant grounds and hostel facilities, MBSFA is one of those rare old school football residential academies. It also has affiliations to schools under CBSE, ICSE and even the local State Board for its students to complete their academic requirements.
The academy today has 42 students enrolled from across the country in the Under-16 and Under-18 categories, and its list of alumni includes Souvik Das, the captain of the U-19 India team, James Singh of Pune FC and many more. MBSFA graduates have made their way into every top club of the country, including ISL franchisees like Delhi Dynamos and FC Mumbai City.
Fighting a battle for survival: MBSFA manager Subhobroto Dey
But despite everything, MBSFA today is almost nearing extinction. The academy is desperate for financial assistance, and absolutely no help has poured in from the government or the corporate end.
Subhobroto Dey, the team as well as administrative manager of the academy says, “We are fighting a battle for our survival today. We have produced about 100 players who are playing in the top leagues of the country and today we don’t even have money to pay pocket money to our players.”
Growing competition due to the initiation of a large number of football academies by European clubs in India is also making things a little difficult for MBSFA. However, that is not a huge concern for Subhobroto.
“These academies are good for the development of the game in India. But they take in students based on their individual capabilities and just train them. Then it’s on them to make their way into the leagues of the country.
“Here in MBSFA we not just train them, but give them a platform. We run under the name of Mohun Bagan, the premier club of the nation. We have players in every club in India, and hence it becomes very much easier for our products to establish themselves in the Indian football scene.”
But things aren’t as smooth as the plan would suggest.
“We are nearing our extinction today. We have written to every possible corporate house that sponsors football in India, but no one has been of any help. SAIL has provided us with the infrastructure, but we need money to run the academy and we don’t have it.
“Mr. Tapan Roy, who is the Secretary of the Academy is the only one managing funds, and things have become really difficult for him too now.”
Despite being listed as an NGO the academy has failed to attract CSR initiatives, and all of Roy’s approaches to get financial aid have failed.
“When Ms. Neeta Ambani launched her ambition grassroot development plan, we became hopeful. We wrote to them, but this has been of absolutely no help. We have received no support and not even a reply. Talking about grassroot football development, aren’t we one of the pioneers in doing so?” questions Tapan Roy.
Today, the corporate world which has invested money in the Indian Super League, is celebrating the birth of footballing nation, while academies like MBSFA, who are still very much instrumental in developing a healthy young Indian football crop, continue to get surrogate treatment.
MBSFA is not just an academy; it’s a tradition that needs preservation. And it’s high time, or rather past time, that focus and attention shifts towards the providing them with the infrastructure they require to carry on with the priceless work that they do.