Donnerstag, 09.01.2020 // 12:10 Uhr

With its involvement in Chennai City FC, FCB is exporting its know-how in the development of young talent. Massimo Ceccaroni reports on the first year in India, the insights, challenges and opportunities for this venture. In an interview, the member of the Board of Directors, who has recently accepted a new role as ambassador for India and overall sports lead for the India project, also describes in detail how a large academy will be set up in Coimbatore in 2020.

Massimo Ceccaroni, you are about to set off again for another extended stay in India. How much time have you now spent on site for FCB's involvement with Chennai City FC?


Massimo Ceccaroni: I was there for the first time, almost exactly one year ago, then six more times and finally from the end of October until just before Christmas for close to two months.


What happened in that first year?


First of all, we decided together to set up an academy in Coimbatore. The first step was for me to understand how Indian football works and the potential behind it. I then saw the challenges and why Indian football is not yet so good internationally. Nationally, there is no structure of the championship. If you have good players and train them properly, then they have to be able to compete. But the championship is far too short, it only lasts about three or four months and sometimes it's a bit confusing.


What other experiences have you had?


Of course we encounter different circumstances in India. You come across clichés when cows run over a dusty training ground. There is poverty, but at the same time you can feel how a self-confident, emancipated middle class is growing rapidly. We've trained on modern artificial turf pitches installed on the roofs of high-rise buildings, and I've met many exciting people. For example, the majority shareholder and president of the club, Rohit Ramesh, a member of the publishing family of "The Hindu", the second largest English language newspaper, or Krishnakumar Raghavan, who also holds a share in the club and is devoted to the extensive daily business. An absolute stroke of luck for our project is Mourija Sethupandian, whom Chennai City FC hired as a youth coach in spring of 2019. Mourija is a 28 year old university graduate, smart as a whip and came from a professional football academy.


The goal is to have the facility ready in September 2020.



What are his duties?


He understands how his people work and has used his network to find new coaches. He has suggested candidates who don't originate from the region but have joined from far away and speak a completely different dialect, a different language. This is important because the players in the academy will also stem from different corners of the country. We put together a team of eight coaches within two weeks in December and they will be integrated into the Academy later this year. Unfortunately, the coaches who have previously led the youth development efforts at Chennai City FC do not have the required skillset needed, but they will now help build up the pre formation department with the younger players in Chennai with the new content and structures we have given them. They are happy about that and it shows me that I have found the right approach to them.


Are you also in contact with the first team?


While it isn’t part of my job description, I do know the coaches and the players and we exchange ideas. I've been invited to the matches and asked to speak in front of the team because they believed it to be motivating. When coaches from Basel spend time in Coimbatore in the future, in addition to their input for the Academy's coaching training, they will certainly spend a day or two with the first team and provide support, for example in athletics. I can also imagine that a young player who doesn't quite make it to the first team at FCB might go to India for six months. Instead of playing in Switzerland’s second tier, he could prove himself in the highest league of a country. In addition, the player would certainly attract media attention, playing experience in a professional team, the chance to play in the Asian Champions League qualifiers and generally gain experience with under a smart coach at the Indian I-League champions. Perhaps the most important argument for a young player is to get out of his comfort zone, take a detour and develop his personality. That's not to be underestimated for the maturing process of a player in modern football.


There are two top leagues in India - that's where the confusion begins.


Very briefly outlined: The I-League, in which Chennai City FC participates, has been the official league under the umbrella of the All India Football Federation since 1996. In addition, the privately organised Indian Super League, ISL, a franchise model that is more commercialised and structured than the I-League, has been in existence since 2013. The new season is already underway again and Chennai City FC, as current champions, are taking part in the AFC Champions League qualifiers and have a place in the AFC Cup, comparable to the UEFA Europa League, on safe ground.


How would you rate the level of play in the I-League?


In Switzerland I would compare it to the Challenge League, and the difference to the ISL is not that big. The best Indian players are involved in the ISL, and I assumed that the better foreigners are there as well. I have only seen two ISL games, but the foreign professionals didn't stand out very much. I would also class their fitness as insufficient, there is a lot to do.


What does it mean that Chennai City FC is no longer playing in Chennai and is now moving with the academy to Coimbatore?


The clubs office is still in Chennai and the youngest age categories from U9 to U12 will still be in Chennai. We have also decided to set up a girls team. This is also an important issue in India. As soon as it goes in a professional direction, the players will be in Coimbatore - that is, the first team and the academy. There is a simple reason for the change of location: everything is much more expensive in Chennai. And Coimbatore is a prosperous city with football-loving people, a region with a textile industry where many people make a good living, but so far little to no entertainment, which football offers. We see this as an opportunity. Moreover, in India, it is not so much a question of identifying yourself with a city as with the state of Tamilnadu. We had to learn that first. Moreover, Coimbatore, with its population of around three million people, is a little more manageable than the chaotic city of Chennai with its more than 12 million people. Lastly, the air in Coimbatore is also a little bit better.


How many spectators attend the games in Coimbatore?


There are about 6000 to 9000 spectators at the home games of Chennai City. But there are also other conditions. In Mumbai and Delhi, not many people go to football, sometimes only 2000 or 3000 people in the stadium. In Calcutta, for example, with its British colonial history, up to 60,000 people go to the games.


It will be hard work over the next two or three years. Otherwise there will be no good output. 



What is the concrete state of affairs at the Academy?


Alanthurai, a small community west of Coimbatore - a rural area right on the border with the state of Kerala - was chosen as the location for the Academy. 32 acres were purchased, which is roughly the size of 18 football pitches. Mind you, not by FCB, but by Chennai City FC. CCFC is also financing the buildings. Three pitches with natural grass and two with artificial grass, a basketball court, a jogging track and a lake are planned. In addition, there will be a changing area, fitness room, physio rooms, a canteen, access routes and parking spaces and of course residential areas. There will be space for around 90 young people plus their carers.


And when will football be played there?


We are in the process of planning, constructing and budgeting with architects and clients. The high standards of FCB and Chennai City FC have to be reconciled. I expect that we will be able to train on the first pitches as early as June 2020 and the goal is to have the facility ready in September 2020. It shall become the best youth football academy in India.


This sounds big and ambitious in terms of time, and it seems like a long-term project.


It will be hard work over the next two or three years. Otherwise there will be no good output. And if we don't do it well, we won't get anything out of it in four years either. When we did the first sighting games, I realized that it should only be a long-term project. When I look at a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy playing football in a club in India and compare that with what I see on campus with his peers, there's not much difference. I don't see the same quality of plays in India yet, because the players are not yet educated well enough both technically and tactically, but in some cases I even see more potential, because they are better in their intuitive actions than some of our players in Basel. However, when I was allowed to observe an U18 sighting training session, I didn't really enjoy it, because the youngsters who have grown big and strong haven't made any progress in footballing terms.


What's the reason for this?


It's because there are no coaches, no real training concepts. There is no know-how yet on how to deal with young footballers. That's why they train the wrong way and the players don't improve. The short championship and the lack of competition do the rest.


How do you experience Indian children and young people?


No matter what region they come from: they have a humble attitude. There are no big-headed and arrogant types. From school, where they have to learn a lot, they bring discipline with them, sometimes they are almost too disciplined. If you take that as a basis, if they learn self-responsibility and if humility can be transformed into self-motivation, then in four or five years we will have many young, interesting Indian footballers who can play in Europe. Technically and athletically, they definitely have enough skills to develop into top class players.


In other words, we have to write off the older age groups and start with the twelve or thirteen-year-olds?


Exactly. The possibility cannot be ruled out that there might be an 18-year-old in this huge country who has the potential to make it to Europe in two years. But if we want to proceed systematically and bring the players up to a level where they have a real chance of ending up in one of the top five leagues in Europe, then we have to start with the younger ones. They can't, it may sound harsh, play "real" football. They have no feeling for the game situation, no rhythm, no phases in the game. The boys are great, they run, but when you watch them, it almost drives you crazy, because they just run. Our players on the other hand don't want to run anymore, they just want to play. So if you can implement a modern training concept in India, then I see an incredible amount of potential. And FCB has a lot to gain: Developing talent, generating income, not being so dependent on income from European competitions, which will be increasingly difficult to get hold of in the years to come anyway.


How well known is the FCB project in India already?


We, the people involved in the project, travel a lot in India. It's about expanding the network for FCB and CCFC and making the project better known. For example, we have taken part in three conventions organised by the Indo-Swiss Chamber of Commerce. The aim is to enable Swiss companies operating in India to meet and exchange information. We were invited to an official reception at the Swiss Embassy in New Delhi, where we were able to present our project to a selected company. In Mumbai and Bangalore the Consul General welcomed us - almost everywhere we were able to generate great attention for the project. This helps to win partners for the project. Football in India is currently experiencing a period of growth, and we want to be part of that growth.


Why is that so?


Because there is not only the pharmaceutical, textile, food and service sectors, but also sport. Football is exported, and the ladies and gentlemen who attend such meetings are also drawn to football and its emotions. We have been offered a lot of help, not only with football, but also beyond. Within a short period of time, many contacts have been made - we have visited, for example, Swiss and now global pharmaceutical groups and investment banks, manufacturers of sanitary equipment or medium-sized transport companies from Basel, which seem to do excellent business in India. Football is emotion and these companies are looking for that.


Back again to the academy in Coimbatore - which is now to be built in no time at all. What are the next steps?


We actually have to start training in June, when the first places are ready, because in the Indian school system the new semester starts in June. And the players we select come from everywhere. They will have to move to Coimbatore first. We will have to find interim solutions and accommodate the youngsters in the area until the accommodation on the academy grounds is ready. We will therefore start with the U13 and U15, leaving out the U18 for the time being, but the whole concept will start to take effect from June 2020.


In Switzerland, a dual system is maintained in the training of talented footballers at the highest level. Cooperation with schools and training companies has proved successful, there are teaching staff in the academies - what will this look like in Coimbatore?


An agreement with a very good public school, which is located 15 minutes from the academy in Coimbatore, has not yet been finalized, but the people in charge of the school have been very open to our request. In the academy there will be an educational director who will accompany the boys and girls and will be the link between them.


They will now be in India for a longer period of time, more precisely until 27 February. And you will not be travelling alone.


Thomas Bernhard, Head of Conditioning at FCB campus, will accompany me in India until January 10th, and later Michael Bauch, the head goalkeeper trainer, will also come. We will continue to do so and keep bringing experts from Basel to India.


What will be your next task?


The scouting activities are our top priority at this stage. First of all, we'll be looking for U13 and U15 players in various states in the north-east for two weeks, then we'll go north to Kashmir and finally we'll also be scouting in the Chennai region. At the same time the new training culture will be deepened with the existing and the new coaches.


With the values from both worlds, we have to establish our own structures.



What about the competition in scouting? Manchester City, for example, which secured a majority stake in Mumbai City FC in November?


Manchester City may have the bigger name, but we ask: How many own youth players have Manchester City brought out in recent years? Then it's one to zero for us (smiles).


In other words: Names like Shaqiri, Xhaka and Sommer and their careers are working in favour of FCB?


And at the moment especially the name Breel Embolo. It is an example of how it is not always so easy to assert oneself, but the potential is there. Someone like Ivan Rakitic may be a long way off, but he was one from our region who made it. That is impressive in India. And then, of course, everyone always talks about Mohamed Salah - even if he has not been trained in FCB junior staff. But that doesn't matter - his rise is associated with FCB.


Massimo Ceccaroni, please summarize at the end where you see the chances for this project.


We are exporting a training concept from Basel to Coimbatore. The necessary knowledge is available, but must be adapted to the diverse Indian culture and circumstances: The players are different, the coaches, the climate, all of this must be taken into account. With the values from both worlds, we have to establish our own structures, we have to link all of this together and find out what is best for a young Indian footballer. I can't and won’t give an answer claiming to be 100% accurate, but the project has so much energy because we are developing it together with the Indians. But we can't do it after six months, it takes a couple of years.


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