The advent of the Indian Super League (ISL) in India has not only brought more attention to Indian football, thanks to the plethora of star names that have come in, but also an emphasis on football infrastructure.
Inevitably, the focus has also turned towards grooming youngsters and grassroots development which is always necessary to build a talent pool which will take the game to the next level in the country.
This is where FC Goa, the 2015 ISL finalists, are leading the charge with President Akshay Tandon at the helm. After taking over in 2016, he has made it a point to ensure a proper structure for youth development is set up so that kids from the state are given proper coaching from a young age.
Speaking to Goal on how the club are planning to escalate their grassroots developmental activities, Tandon says, "We already have the entire grassroots team up and running. We have 16 centres - eight in the north (Goa), eight in the south (Goa).
"We have about 12 full-time coaches who are a part of this and there are an additional 30-to-40 coaches working on a part-time basis who have other jobs like PE (Physical Education) teachers or other coaching jobs.
"This year is all about strengthening the existing programme, for which we are talking to a lot of schools and their Principals. Our primary focus for this year is to ensure that the kids who have signed up for our grassroots programme are attending on a regular basis, their coaching is regular and are not interrupted. That's already happening from the age groups of six to 13."
With respect to youth development, it is always important to have age-group tournaments which will provide the kids with crucial competitive game experience and FC Goa have recognised the need for the same.
"To compliment the coaching from what is done elsewhere in India and also in Goa, while there are tournaments and leagues that exist for U-13 and above, there isn't much for six to 13. So last year, we piloted two leagues - one U-10 and one U-12. They were very successful. We had engagements from over 64 schools," says Tandon.
"There was also a very good participation from the parents which is also very important. So this year we are planning on eight leagues which should kick-off by October. The idea is not to do numbers but to improve on the quality of coaching and the kind of competition we are giving the kids.
"We already have U-13, U-15 and U-18 squads who have professional coaches who conduct three sessions (per week). Again, we want to ensure about the quality and that the sessions are more regular. We used to have a squad of 35 in these age bracket squads last year, but this year we are reducing that to 25 in order to focus on really developing those who are selected," elaborates Tandon, emphasizing the focus on quality.
FC Goa have also taken up a ground on lease for their youth teams and took the effort to ensure a residential setup near the facility for their developmental squad.
"Right now, we have taken the Chowgule University ground on lease for our entire youth program - from the U-13s till the U-23s. For the U-18s till the U-23s we have taken up three apartments very close to the grounds which is going to function as the residential for the outstation as well as the entire squad from morning till evening so that we can control their diet, rest and environment a little more," he reveals.
"We have also created a makeshift residential facility for our developmental squad which was part of Derrick Pereira’s agenda but we are going to have the residential facility for our developmental squad only for this year depending on how our program and how our conversation with the government goes. We are going to make provisions for our own residential facilities in the next six months or so."
More importantly, the club is not charging the kids a penny for the training they are providing right now. However, a paid programme is in the pipeline for the future.
"Right now, this entire training program is entirely free. We don't charge anything for any of our grassroots programmes or even any of the leagues that we conduct," expresses Tandon.
"We are looking for brand partners to help in our existing programmes first and once we feel that we have a strong programme for the best football players across the state, we are also going to be looking at deploying paid programmes for coaching like the football school models that are held all over the world."