India is playing football and kabaddi now believes Abhishek Bachchan as new ISL and PKL seasons begin
Donning multiple hats is not easy especially not when it comes to sport. While the exertions and ruminations of any athlete might travel along a similar path, glory at the end of it can come in different forms. As an owner of a sports team, Abhishek Bachchan has often lived those paths with his players be it on the football field or an indoor mat.
His sides have reached the pinnacle of their respective sporting competitions. The Jaipur Pink Panthers were the inaugural champions of India's Pro Kabaddi League while Chennaiyin FC have been champions, twice, of the Indian Super League, the most recent of which came just about six months ago. But beyond the success of his teams, he says he's happy there's been a huge surge in more people playing sports such as football and kabaddi besides cricket.
In Chennai, ahead of a busy week where both his teams will be in action, took time out to chat with Sportskeeda.
What were the emotions like after Chennaiyin's second championship win in March? Was it any different to the first time?
It was a different journey, a different feeling. Just very, very happy for the boys. Happy for the fans who've been so fantastic in supporting us. As a sports team, it's our job to win; that's what we want to do, that's what Chennaiyin FC is known to do. We want to keep that tradition and dream alive. So any time you fulfil that dream, it's just an amazing feeling.
Every team has stock-taking discussions at the end of every season. What was the thought process for Chennaiyin especially after a successful season?
The dominating thought process was 'you've won the cup, won the cup’. Now go and do it again, let's not rest on our laurels. It's a new season, a new day, new dawn. Get on with it. Just because you've won the cup twice doesn't mean you're going to win it again. Put a competitive and balanced squad together and try to win it again.
The last title defence for Chennaiyin in season three did not go well with the team failing to make even the playoffs. Have you been able to download anything to the current setup to avoid similar pitfalls?
Absolutely! That was a learning experience for us. At the end of the season, you know some players are going to leave. So you have to be just as ambitious in signing new players and building a competitive squad.
What has been something that you're very proud of about Chennaiyin as a club?
Two years ago we saw Jerry (Lalrinzuala) come into the squad and pin down that left-position. Last year you saw (Anirudh) Thapa come into the team and I'm so proud of him that he can get to say he's captained India. For a kid that young it's immense. I'm glad to see players from the B team and junior teams make their way into the squad this year. What I like is that Chennaiyin has a reputation of giving it's youth a chance to play. If I'm not mistaken, the last two seasons we've debuted the youngest players in the ISL.
The thought process amongst the youth and the football players in India is that Chennaiyin is a team that will give you a chance if you're good enough. I like that reputation; it's something that I'd like to grow. I like the fact that some of our youth teams are doing immensely well. A lot of credit for that has to go to Sabir (Pasha) and the work he's done with them.
You have tied up with Sri Ramachandra Medical College (SRMC) and their Centre for Sports Science (CSS) as a strategic partner. How handy has this been?
We worked very closely with them last season. Apart from being professionally some of the best we've worked with, they're just really nice guys. They believe in what Chennaiyin is trying to do. Our players worked very closely with them, and they really liked our players.
Is this the next step in sporting development in India?
Of course, absolutely! At the end of the day, sporting infrastructure can always be improved. Talent can take you to a particular stage, but beyond that, it's the coaching and complementary infrastructure that plays a part. Be it sports science, physiotherapy, training and I think for us SRMC is going to be that competitive advantage.
The tie-ups with educational institutions is not restricted. The Jaipur Pink Panthers have also built an alliance with Sathyabhama University...?
Yes, the Pink Panthers now have been in Chennai for about 6 weeks for their pre-season camp. Sathyabhama University has been supporting us - the boys are staying there and have been using their facilities. It's a wonderful way to get more people involved.
Anup Kumar is going to be leading the Pink Panthers this time. Did you feel there was a need for strong leadership which has perhaps let the team down in the past?
Part of the strategy was to get a young squad since it's a longer season and also to get a very physical squad. I wanted that one figure who was going to be a leader, who was going to bring the experience. Kabaddi is a game mostly about strategy contrary to popular belief. It's not just about physical attributes. And we needed somebody who's going to keep their wits about them. And there's nobody better in that regard in the world of kabaddi than Anup Kumar who we've had a great rivalry with when he was with U Mumba.
He's always been a player we've had immense respect for. I still remember, after the very first kabaddi match at the NSCI stadium in Mumbai, it was Jaipur Pink Panthers versus U Mumba. We lost that match and at the presentation ceremony post-match I shook his hand and told him it was my dream that one day he'd play for the Pink Panthers. And he smiled. It's wonderful for that dream to have come true now. He's fit, a great leader, he has so much knowledge about the sport and he's just taken up all these young players under his wing.
Deepak Hooda and Mohit Chhillar were part of the disappointing Asian Games campaign. Are they using that disappointment as further motivation with a new team?
They're very motivated. I'm one of the few who think that it wasn't such a bad thing. It's going to force India to pull up it's socks; maybe somewhere we were getting a little overconfident. And to not even win a silver medal, but a bronze is a big wake-up call. The boys have responded in the way they should and I think that the coaches have also responded in the way they should.
They're very motivated right now and want to prove a point. And our first match is against U Mumba which is being coached by the Iranian national coach and also has a lot of the Iranian players. So it should be a fun match. The Pink Panthers and U Mumba have always had a healthy rivalry.