Sabir Pasha - Chennaiyin FC targeting at least 40 games a season for its youth teams
Ever since youth development became one of the areas of focus for Indian Super League (ISL), the clubs have instituted various age group teams, giving more and more opportunities for talented kids to hone their skills.
Chennaiyin FC have been no different. And despite their ambitions of being a hub for talent from all over India, they had to end up giving importance to local talent - something that they have ultimately found satisfaction in.
Chennaiyin FC established their U13, U15 and U18 teams in the third season of their existence in 2016 while the B team came into the picture in January 2018.
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"We started the teams after the ISL started to give a lot of importance to youth development. ISL had the criteria that all teams should focus on youth development," Chennaiyin FC assistant coach Pasha told Goal.
However, constraints with managing the education of the young kids and the abundance of footballing talent in the city meant that Chennaiyin were quick to turn their focus towards talent from the city.
"First year, we had a mixture of players from all over the country. Then we decided we need to look more towards local players because it would be difficult when their education comes to the picture. When you bring boys of this age, you can’t just focus on their football. There are different syllabi as far as education is concerned.
"We wanted talent and wanted it from all over India. But it was difficult and we started sticking with local talent. We had a lot of local talent and we thought that being in Chennai, we had to give back to the city."
With most of their age group teams (not including the B team) consisting of players from the city, Chennaiyin have been able to focus on their football development solely. Pasha feels this has helped lessen the burden on the club while improving the skills of the local footballers.
"These boys are going to their normal schools and we have set the program in such a way that it does not hamper their education. For football, we provide them everything - grounds, facilities, transport, matches, training and everything.
"In the long run, the local kids benefit and we find a big satisfaction in that," he added.
The 47-year-old feels this approach has been successful and it is highlighted by the fact that most of Tamil Nadu's age group state teams are comprised of his boys.
"We went through with it and we were successful to an extent. We produced a boy from our U15 team who has gone on to the national team set up (Liyaquath). Now, many of our boys play for the Tamil Nadu age group state teams. We are the core of almost every state team."
Pasha explains how the club ensures the age group teams play at least 40 games a season. And in the event that the boys are unable to get to that mark, the existing arrangements mean the kids make up for it by representing their schools and colleges.
"Ultimately, we have fixed 40 matches for our age group teams in a season. That is our target. We find it difficult to reach that target many times. But we try to achieve it. This season, U13 and U15 had 40 matches.
"But the U18 and B teams could not reach that mark because we can’t send them to strong tournaments featuring senior teams because they won’t be able to match them physically though they can do so technically.
"We have somehow touched 30-32 matches for them. But we allow them to play for their schools and colleges also and that way, they get more playing time. So, individually, they play more than 40 games."