After the announcement of India hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, youth football in the country has a new reason to cheer. Chennai will play host to its first ever league football tournament for schools under the name of 'Chola-MS Schools Premier League', an initiative of the local club side Chennai United FC.
The league will see 14 schools from across Chennai compete in the Under-14 category in the first year. The 14 school teams will be split into two groups with the top two from each group qualifying for the semifinals. The league will be expanded to more age categories from the second year onwards, while the organisers also intend to increase the number of schools participating.
Chennai United FC has also tied-up with Sports Mechanics, a leading company in the field of sports analytics. This partnership gives the Schools Premier League a new dimension. The league will have video highlights of the games as well as match analysis. The schools and individual players can take a look at match statistics and individual statistics after every game.
Although the Tamil Nadu Football Association should have been on the forefront of such an initiative, the administrative body has long been known for its in-house power struggles and clashing between members rather than for their efforts toward youth development. Credit has to be given to Chennai United FC for kick starting such a league which would be a great hunting ground for young talent.
Varun Tripuraneni, founder of Chennai United, has laid emphasis on the club's role in providing a strong platform for youth development in the city. "Our main objective is to promote football and provide a good platform for players at grassroots level. Chennai United wants to play a role in youth development in the city."
Chennai United FC will provide complete match kits for all the schools in the league and talented players identified in this league will be selected for the clubs Elite Development Program. Special awards will also be given to the Man of the Match, Man of the Tournament, Top goal scorer and best goalkeeper.
Former India player Syed Sabir Pasha has welcomed the league, but has also warned authorities to take stringent measures to prohibit overage players. “It’s an excellent step. I would like the organisers to ensure that all the participants are below 14 years. The league will lose its significance if over-aged players are not weeded out. The tournament shouldn’t become a platform for age cheats,” he said.
Raman Vijayan, another former India player, complimented Chennai United for a constructive grass-roots work.
“The league, which is long overdue, will give exposure to school children. Football is fast losing its tag of being a poor man’s game in Chennai, as more and more rich boys are taking up the sport. Youngsters need the involvement of professional clubs to dream big. If Chennai United take the best from the league under their wings, it would represent continuity. The club should devise long-term plans,” he said.
The tournament kicks off on 8th January, at the MCC School Grounds. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday has been selected as a Matchday except for next week where Chennai will be celebrating its Pongal holidays.
The Chola-MS Schools Premier League is all set to bring in exciting clashes and new rivalries between the 14 schools with many teams playing in their home grounds, backed by their own fans. Chola MS is the title sponsor for the event while reputed brands like Nippon Paint, The-Village (Phoenix Developers) and Radiance Developers have agreed to be associate sponsors for the inaugural season.
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