The new franchisees who have entered the world of Indian football have had to make guarantees worth several crores to the All India Football Federation (AIFF). There was a feeling in the market, especially amongst the players, that the new teams will offer bigger pay packets to some of the ‘star’ names in order to gain a foothold in the I-League.
However that wasn’t to be, at least in the case of Jindal Steel Works (JSW) who are preferring to build the side instead of just buying the stars.
“We know that we do have the luxury of non-relegation. It just gives us the opportunity to build a team which is what we are planning to do. We are not putting any expectations on ourselves with regards to the result at the end of the season. Obviously we don’t want to finish in the bottom half of the table, but we are working towards it. Having said that we haven’t put any pressure on our team to win it in the first season,” explained Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of JSW’s sports arm.
The players’ wages have gone over the top in Indian football in the last few years despite no significant improvement in the standard of the game. This summer however with most clubs facing a cash crunch for a variety of reasons, several players have had to take a pay cut. Ghouse mentioned that JSW wouldn’t get into a bidding war with other teams and does favour having restrictions of wages.
“If it (wages) can be policed, then yes. But it can be policed,” he mentioned.
A few seasons back JSW were in the running to start a club from Mumbai. However things didn’t work out as the group chose to bide time and wait for the right opportunity. Ghouse reasoned as to why the city of Bangalore was opted this time around instead of the financial capital of the country where their head office is based.
“It was either Mumbai or Bangalore. In Mumbai there are already two clubs and it’s too chaotic. I mean where can you do anything here and where are you going to draw crowds. It just didn’t make that much sense even though this was headquarters for us.
“Bangalore on the other hand is where our maximum investment as a group is. Our flagship steel plant is just four hours outside Bangalore. It’s in Vijayanagar, near Bellary where our main steel plant is. As a group our maximum investment has been in Karnataka and it made sense to continue with that.”
Like most metropolitan cities in the country, Bangalore too has a strong following for football but primarily the European one. JSW face the challenge to turn the attention to the game locally which is certainly a tough ask given that there is a huge difference in terms of quality.
“It is a long term program. It is going to be hard to compete with clubs (European) who have been in existence for many years and have an existing fan base. I think the advantage is that Bangalore hasn’t had an I-League club for a long time. So we are going into unchartered territory. The opportunity to grab the attention of the football community is there. So hopefully we can do that with the right marketing and PR plan and build on it. We are not expecting instant results. Nothing is instant. Hopefully over time we can establish a solid fan base for ourselves.”