Sahil Kumar and Zoma are two fourteen-year-old boys passionate about football. Growing up idolizing their football heroes, both played on the streets of Delhi. Their fortune changed when they attended the scholarship trials at the Youth Football International (YFI), an academy set up by Sporting Group International to promote football at the grassroots level.
Two out of every 10 kids at YFI are sponsored by SGI; Sahil and Zoma’s unparallel love for the sport earned them an opportunity to play competitive football. Like them too, a total of 1600 kids compete in the Delhi Youth League (DYL), which is India’s first full-season tournament in age-group football.
Sougato Ghosh, who is the technical director of the league, spoke about the importance of the league tournament in age-group football, “If you’re only training the kid for a couple of days in a week, then it makes no sense unless you give them a platform to compete. The DYL, unlike other knock-out tournaments, provide these kids with a platform to compete over the season of nine months. This helps them raise their game.”
He added that the league is also instrumental in inculcating numerous values that are imperative to a child’s all-round development at their age. “We see the teenagers are engaged in the social media platform, which is great but that is a virtual world. When they assemble on the ground at 7 AM, shaking hands with other kids in their age group who are fighting to beat them, that is the real world.” The teams compete in six age groups starting from U-7 to U-18, hence the YFI also prepares the children in their age brackets.
Pranay Kapuria, 23, who looks after the complete operation for the league, academy and player management for SGI in India, explained that setting up the football academy was to introduce a 360-degree model that is aimed at the all-round development of the players. “Over 100 players train at our academy at the American Embassy School Ground in Delhi. Our coaches identify the talented players and make them play the DYL. This where we test them against quality opposition, and if they come up with impressive performances, then they are approached by the scouts.”
Several players, including Sahil Kumar, have been approached by the scouts of the ISL team Delhi Dynamos, who themselves have an age group team participating in the league.
“I want to find the next Sunil Chhetri.” You can almost sense the optimism in the voice of Adrian Wright, Chief Executive of the Sporting Group International, about the good work his organization has done in the country since they started in 2012.
Wright further added that, “India is definitely waking up to the football phenomena. The whole concept of running our business in India is providing the players with 360-degree solutions; to train them at a professional level, ensure that they go on to play competitive football, and also provide them with an opportunity to stay in the game even after they are finished as players, as referees and coaches.
Both Sougato and Adrian also touched upon their expansion in the country as they look to set up similar leagues in regions near Delhi and then eventually frame something along the lines of the UEFA Champions League but for age-group football.
At a time of football’s renaissance in India, the SGI has built a platform to develop the next-generation heroes of the game. With several like-minded professionals aiming for a common goal, the SGI will continue their efforts towards developing football at the grassroots level in India.