In the 18-team preliminary round, the results of one particular team have been eye-popping. Bhopal-based Madhya Bharat SC finished dead last in Group B with 10 defeats in as many matches. The club managed to score just three goals in their entire campaign while shipping in 39 goals themselves.
They are the only side in the entire competition to have not notched up a single point. By being bottom in the goal-scoring list and top of the charts when it comes to conceding goals, Madhya Bharat has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in its maiden campaign in professional football.
The team has a Spaniard in charge of affairs in the form of Carlos Jose Hevia. The man from Spain is no stranger to Indian football after stints as the Technical Director of FC Pune City in the ISL as well as the head coach of the youth teams at Minerva Punjab in the I-League.
The club was formed last year in partnership with Scottish champions Celtic FC’s Soccer Academy with an aim to promote local talent in central India. The focus of the club remains geared towards the academy and grassroots development.
With an all residential campus in Bhopal for three age groups – U13, U15 and U18 - the club aims to give footballers from Madhya Pradesh and Central India a shot at making it professionally with its tie-up with Celtic.
Upon inking the agreement with the Scottish giants last year, the club conducted trials for the three age groups at venues across India. With space for 72 footballers, the model of the club is primarily academy based.
According to Madhya Bharat’s CEO Rishish Dubey, a step-up to the I-League second division in the club’s very first year of existence was never on the cards. In his words, it was the performance of the U-13 and U-15 teams against senior sides which convinced the club to give them a shot in the I-League.
“Our focus is youth development and grassroots. We were not expecting to play 2nd Division I-League when we began as we were looking only one step at a time. With our academy players developing and watching U-15s and U-18s doing well against senior teams we had the belief that these boys deserve a chance. For the current season which is onto us now, our ideology is looking at it one match at a time. Football is a process, a process of continued development of players,” Dubey had told TalkSports24x7 ahead of the start of the I-League second division.
“Winning and losing will change with the time. We are hoping to surprise few people. I am very confident that Madhya Bharat Sports Club’s style of play and performance will impress people. We want to play football in this season which encourages attraction and people come to play,” he had added.
After the conclusion of the preliminary round, the results have been startling if anything.
Pitted in a group containing the likes of Ozone FC, Kerala Blasters reserves, FC Kerala, Fateh Hyderabad and FC Goa reserves, Madhya Bharat found the going extremely tough. They started and ended their campaign with defeats to the Goa outfit. In between, they were thrashed 7-0 by Ozone FC in what was the side’s heaviest defeat. Their only respectable result came against Hyderabad in a match where they went down by 2-1.
As the club is academy based, the core of the I-League outfit is made up of players from the U18 academy. However, there are also plenty of U15 players sprinkled into the side which has given it a much more youthful look. In a competition where clubs are allowed to register a maximum of three foreign players, Madhya Bharat only have one in the form of Guinea defender Ibrahim Sylla.
This inexperience has been the major undoing for the club with their maiden campaign in the I-League 2nd division arriving perhaps a step too soon. A lack of preparedness has hurt the side big time and it is possible that the club has underestimated the level of football in the second division.
Whether Madhya Bharat had anticipated such an abject maiden campaign is not known. What is known is that they have been given a rude awakening in the world of professional football. They will need to come back with more preparedness if they are to succeed in the future.