The sports loving population of India would do absolutely anything when it comes to being recognised for their talents. If the pressures of a stable job and a respectable career were not breathing down their necks, it is quite safe to conclude that India would produce a number of pretty brilliant sportspeople- all in a variety of disciplines.
One man thought about this conundrum and decided to actually do something about this. Meet Eric Benny; the former Indian National Manager who decided to concentrate all his efforts on ensuring that talented children have ample opportunity to pursue their passion for sports alongside academics.
Back in the 90’s, Benny was a promising club and national level player before a career ending injury took him out just a year later. This came merely a year after he was a regular face at Salgaocar FC and had been selected in the Indian National football team trials. With the injury ending his chances of playing further, he decided to take up the next best thing that was available.
“Coaching young talents, the best thing that one gets to see is the sheer determination that some of these children possess,” he fondly recalls. “Initially, I started an organisation which helped retired players from a backwards economic stature to find their footing again.”
The organisation in question was aptly named Football Initiatives. What was remarkable about it was the way it sought to look beyond the game and its current players. And that is exactly what Eric Benny tries to bring to the field- a wholesome development of the game and the players who play it.
The chance to make a bigger impact came when the All India Football Federation asked Benny to join them as Manager of the Indian National Team. “I had a little advantage here due to my stint in the corporate world,” he muses.
The recent clashes between the bureaucratic federations and the sporting community certainly put this point into perspective. As it so happens, the federations clearly end up running the show for the most part while the coaches perspective is often sidetracked. As Benny points out, most of the sporting community is often at a loss when it comes to conforming to the very political scenario that shrouds sporting federations. “This did not happen with me,” he insists. “I owe that to my corporate education.
From there, it was all upwards. After ending his association with the AIFF in 2011, this man’s vision to add value to the youth structure of Indian football was a strong one. “Look at foreign clubs. Most of them have a coherent system of academies that take the complete responsibility of a child’s education and their game,” he said. “It is that structure that I want to bring to this country too.”
“Big football clubs do not necessarily develop talent, It buys them. For me, I needed such a partner who would recognise the talent that I scouted & nurture them further”.
These institutes turned out to be Deutsches Fussball Internat, Germany and FC Metz, France. “The objective is to work with young players between the ages of 10 and 18 who have great football potential and who may even have the desire to become a football professional after their school year, as well as children and young people whose parents are the combination of School and sport for the right training of their protege,” reads the official website of Deutsches Fussball Internat.
Several students from the aforementioned age group have already been inducted into these two schools which focus on a child’s academic development alongside his athletic training. The latest in the list is 13-year old Kenbang Borang who recently became the first boy from Arunachal Pradesh to play in an international format like this.
“Initially, the Federation did not believe in my plan,” recalls Benny. “The General Secretary travelled with me to France and Germany and when he saw the setup himself, he was inclined to support me.”
“You can only be as good as your competitor. So, to build up the best possible team/Individual, it is important to get the maximum exposure possible. Only then can you understand the real standard of players and coach them accordingly.”
For the country’s part, a good percentage of the general mass is quite unaware that this sort of a scouting avenue even exists. “We’ve had some great success as 10 players from the program benefited phenomenally, they are playing professional football in India and abroad.
Sunil Chhetri has also been the Brand Ambassador of this venture, we are sure this incentive is going to flourish massively in the years to come.