With an eye on both teaching the beautiful game the “Arsenal way”, and benefitting from the commercial offerings of the Indian market, Arsenal Football Club has big plans for India.
Right up at the top of its India vision is growing its existing network of 18 football clubs across India for training children in the fast, short passing game, with high technique and speed of thought that are the hallmarks of the Arsenal game.
Speaking from his office that overlooks the club’s iconic Emirates Stadium, Vinai Venkatesham, Chief Commercial Officer of Arsenal, laid out its plans for India.
“We are at the phase in India where we are particularly keen on increasing our reach and engagement with fans, and soccer schools is one way,” he said. The club already has over 35 million fans in India (a figure of its ‘followers’ taken from SportsDNA 2014) and the stage is ripe for a major expansion.
“The long-term ambition is to grow that network further. We want to do that with responsibility, and getting the balance right. We want a broad reach — getting as many children to be part of the school but also in a way to ensure consistency in delivering the Arsenal way of training.”
Arsenal partners with India on Track, which operates the training schools. Arsenal provides use of the Arsenal logo and brings some of its famous players to India for promotion.
Most important of all though is the training it provides, sending its coaches to India to visit the training schools to ensure game consistency, and also getting Indian coaches to train at the club in London.
Arsenal’s football schools are not primarily geared to talent-spotting.
“We don’t see soccer schools in India as a way to unearth the next footballer. This is about engagement, enjoyment, giving people who love soccer a chance,” said Mr. Venkatesham.
Mr. Ventakesham described as a “statistical anomaly” the fact that in a country as large as India there has not been a top quality premier league Indian footballer to emerge.
“I’d say it is a matter of time. It is not a sport that is dominated by people of a particular physical make-up — there are slow players and quick players.”
But India must help prepare the ground for football to go international. “You need three, four and five-year olds to aspire to play in the Premier League — and will take a while for people to work their way through the system.”
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