ANALYSIS-Soccer-Blackburn bid underlines India's global ambition


Fri, 29 Oct 17:33:00 2010

If the ink dries on Venky's acquisition deal with Blackburn Rovers, it will underline a huge gap between India's growing financial clout and the pitiable state of its soccer.

The world's second most populous nation ranks an embarrassing 144th out of 208 in the latest FIFA rankings, is struggling to put in place a fully professional league and has soccer surviving on crumbs in a uni-sport culture where cricket towers over its rivals.

Almost inevitably, corporate India has shifted its focus abroad and finds an excellent opportunity in the English Premier League.

So every four months, local media is abuzz with claims that the Sahara Group is close to signing a shirt deal with Manchester United or Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani is set to take over Liverpool.


The recent bid by Venky's proved beyond doubt that the Premier League is constantly on India Inc's radar.

"Premier League clubs are professionally managed and run on a business model whereas the Indian clubs don't make money," All India Football Federation (AIFF) vice-president Subrata Dutta told Reuters on Friday.

"They are just not a business proposition. That's why Indian companies are interested in investing in English clubs."

Veteran journalist Jaydeep Basu believes it is the Premier League's high visibility which draws the Indian companies.

"It assures you global reach and it's a highly lucrative property which perfectly dovetails with the philosophy of the ever-expanding Indian corporate houses," said Basu, whose more than 25-year experience has resulted in an anecdotal history of Indian soccer.

"It's a have-money-will-invest attitude. So what if the Indian clubs are not good enough? Premier League is widely followed by India's massive upwardly mobile youth population and that suits the Indian companies."

The numbers provided by an ESPN STAR Sports spokesman backed Basu's theory.

"Football is one of the fastest growing sports in India and after cricket, it is also one of the most followed sports by fans in the country," the spokesman said.

"Players like (Wayne) Rooney, (Frank) Lampard and (Didier) Drogba are household names and fans keenly follow the fortunes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

"Premier League was watched by more than 60 million individuals last year in the country, which goes to show the increasing traction of the event and the game."

Venky's chief Anuradha J. Desai expects to tap this huge market with the $72.77 million bid for Blackburn Rovers.

"There is a new generation of boys aged between 10 and 17 in India that are football mad but lots of them support Chelsea," she said in a recent interview with British paper, the Lancashire Telegraph.


"I believe that at this time we can make the market for soccer in India grow. Having Indian owners in the Premier League will create a lot of interest here and I think we can try to create a whole nation of Blackburn Rovers fans."

Since 1888, India has been hosting the Durand Cup, one of the world's oldest tournaments, won two Asian Games gold medals and finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics.

However, India have never taken part in any of the 19 World Cup finals to date, even though they did qualify for the 1950 World Cup where they were drawn in the same group as Italy, Paraguay and Sweden.

They withdrew, though, because FIFA would not allow them to play in bare feet, although the cost of sending a team to Brazil probably also had a bearing on that decision.

Asian Football Confederation chief Mohamed Bin Hammam is confounded by Indian soccer's pitiable state and believes the country can salvage some of its lost soccer glory.

"We cannot develop football in Asia unless we integrate India, which has to come back to play its leading role of the past," the Qatari told reporters in Delhi in September.


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