Man City's ISL investment 'huge endorsement for Indian football'
On Thursday, in what was heavily advertised as a 'landmark moment' in Indian football, European giants and defending Premier League champions Manchester City joined hands with Mumbai City FC, agreeing to buy a 65% stake in the ISL club.
The deal, which makes Mumbai the eighth club to be part of the City Football Group (CFG) network, was announced amid much fanfare and inevitably brought with it the potential of access to the conglomerate's deep pockets and the world-class facilities. Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chairman of the CFG, assured that he was "committed to the future of football in India and to the potential for Mumbai City FC within that future."
While it remains to be seen exactly how much CFG actually invests in the club, and how it would impact Indian football overall, former captain Bhaichung Bhutia believes exciting times are in store.
"To have one of the biggest European clubs investing here shows there's a huge interest in the Indian market," he told ESPN. "From the challenges that we faced during my playing days in terms of conditions to now, I think there's been a qualitative improvement in almost every aspect of Indian football.
"ISL has helped in taking the sport to masses, Indian players have also hugely benefited from the exposure and what we're seeing happen now through the tie-up I think is hopefully going to have a massive impact on all fronts."
Since being taken over by the Arab consortium Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, Manchester City, long labelled as underachievers being overshadowed by their more popular neighbours, have made giant strides forward on the European map, spending exorbitantly on players and facilities alike. Those efforts have reaped massive rewards in recent years; the club has won four Premier League titles, three League Cups, and two FA Cups, breaking a number of records along the way.
Shaji Prabhakaran, the Delhi Football President and former FIFA Development Officer for South and Central Asia, is confident that Mumbai will enjoy a similar impact.
"It's a big leg-up and huge endorsement for Indian football. A landmark day for us, nothing less," Prabhakaran said. "It will encourage greater investment into Indian football, both domestically and globally. It remains to be seen how Mumbai City will take advantage of this association in terms of building and growing youth systems and infrastructure. As a club they have to now put in the right structure, invest into creating assets and focus on developing youth players. They will have an edge over other Indian clubs on this since they will have access to some top quality know-how and collaboration with the best brains and minds in execution.
"The whole celebrity equity that Mumbai City brings can help in cross endorsement and with serious money coming in with this investment the club will have more cash in hand to spend and hire the best talents. In terms of branding of course, this is nothing less than a game changer."
Part of Manchester City's dominance of the league in recent seasons has been attributed to a robust youth academy that has provided England with a pool of budding young talents to choose from. Former striker Abhishek Yadav foresees this happening in India as well.
"It's an indicator of Indian football catching the world's attention," he said. "Overall, this move will have positive implications on our footballing ecosystem and it could have a domino effect in attracting greater attention of renowned international clubs, bring about a flow of more number of experts into our country, not just coaches but sports science, medical know-how and all the ancillaries that make up all the big clubs of the world.
"Grassroots programs in a country of our size and numbers can almost be a never-ending challenge but the advantage is that we have that much of a bigger pool to draw from, different body types and skills. We have had certain pointed initiatives in building them like the launch of the 'baby' league, the U-13 I League and even the Khelo Games and this partnership might be the push we need in going both deeper and wider in our efforts."