Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I believe in Indian Football, but I-League Second Division is the child AIFF never wanted: Loko Char

South United Football Club (SUFC) pulling out from I-League seems to be most inauspicious for Football in Bangalore. Until the recently formed Jindal Group-backed football team, SUFC was the only ray of hope for the Garden City, the city, which has a rich heritage of football. 

With Bangalore-based Public Sector and Institutional teams showing apathy towards the beautiful game, here was one privately owned professional club ventured in Football in Bangalore. 

My association with the young and dynamic owner of the club, Loko Char goes much before the formation of the club. Loko touch based with my Football in Bangalore Facebook page. He was looking to invest in football, and some wise friend advised him that Bangalore is the ideal city for his endeavor! 

He was looking for some guidance, which I tried to provide with my minimal knowledge. Eventually, he acquired a club, hired a group of young local talents and the best possible technical staff. The journey of SUFC began on August 17, 2012. 

South United fared reasonably well in BDFA Super Division, missed championship closely, and came second. The results in local league encouraged them to play in I-League Second Division qualifier. With an average age of their players being 24 and playing without any foreigners, they finished at the middle of the table (7 points from 7 games). 

Loko seems to be annoyed owing to lack of support from AIFF, as he rightly puts, I-League Second Division is the child AIFF never wanted! Bet be still believes in Indian football and working towards it. 

Let us hear from the young entrepreneur, about the latest developments, going forward with SUCF. Bet you don’t want to miss this! Why did you take this decision so late - the fact that the clubs would require to pay for their travel and stay during Second Division qualifying round was one of the items discussed in AIFF's Emergency Committee meeting in New Delhi on May 27?
Loko: Yes, the discussions have taken place. Then again there have been discussions on many-many things, how many of them are actually in place? 
I am not one to take things into account based on discussions. I only react when there is a concrete decision, hence my resulting actions. Furthermore, I am also new to the football world here in India, SUFC is not even a year old and neither am I. So before all I had to go on was people's advice, now I have my experience of the I-League 2, and weighing it with this decision is one thing I got to do which lead to me auditing the value and deciding to look at what I personally think is best. When were these conditions - clubs paying on their own and a participation fee of Rs. 1,00,000 carried to you - immediately after the Emergency Committee meeting or much later? 
Loko: I was informed a little later through verbal and written communication to my team members from the association. Above reasons look apparent, any other reasons behind this decision?
Loko: As I said, auditing my first season and our investments in the sport, I realized there is a huge demand for the sport, however, very few people actually investing in imparting the sport in the right way to younger kids from various backgrounds.
Grassroots is highly neglected in India and my real drive is to give as many kids as I can the opportunity to play this wonderful sport, no matter where they are. Re-directing funds to this area can have a huge impact in spreading the sport of football to all our kids. 
I have also spent a lot of time with experts from the UK, Germany, and Spain and all have them have told me if you are really serious about making a difference in football start with introducing U-8s to the sport, develop skills once they reach their teens, and work on their footballing brain. This will happen only with competitive exposure, hence we have now committed SUFC to be that vehicle a team of kids and If these kids take us places I will be happy to go along. Are you still retaining the same team or releasing players having better offers? 
Loko: How can I stop players from developing, as we all know a lot of my players are good enough for National football and they want to play against and with the best? Why should I stop them because of my own philosophies? They are looking for new challenges, however, we’ve kept few of the real raw talents. The focus of SUFC is now shifted to the basics of football - grassroots and investing consciously towards developing youth footballers. Please elaborate your plan? 
Loko: As mentioned earlier, we have committed ourselves to bring the sport of football to as many kids as possible - that is our aim.  We have trained 1000 kids through soccer schools and camps last year, I want that to increase substantially. Also, I want to create an academy system that produces all my first team players. 
We are now in the process of re-structuring our organization towards that goal – India internationals - Raman Vijayan and Noel Wilson along with Gopal Gowda will remain with us to drive towards this goal. Once we complete re-structuring, I can elaborate more on our plans. Do you have a plan or a vision with a number in mind. Like how many wards within a set number of years coming out from soccer schools will be playing for State, Country, so on? 
Loko: I am superstitious, so I don’t like to reveal my dream number! But let’s just say SUFC should solely supply with players from our systems and SUFC should be a national league team ON MERIT! The latest being yesterday - Hindustan FC is pulling out of I-League. Just 4 days after SUFC took this decision. With clubs like Green Valley, Samaleshwari Sporting, Aizwal FC, Luangmual, Kohima Komets coming from the fringe areas without any support from sponsors, do you think the list will go longer? 
Loko: I would not like to comment on other clubs and their decisions, however I will say this, clubs like Laungmual won my heart over! The fans are so passionate, the players so in love with the game. It would be really bad for I-League, for Indian football, if they do pull out. That is the true home of Indian football, as through thick and thin without much support they passionately follow and participate in Indian football. Supposing AIFF rolls back the decision, will you reconsider your decision?
Loko: No, our focus remains on a bottom up approach!

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