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A look back at the most high-profile European partnerships in Indian football

A look back at the most high-profile European partnerships in Indian football

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 19 Jan 2021 10:22 AM GMT

Bangalore-based I-League second division outfit Bengaluru United FC on Monday confirmed a partnership agreement with Spanish giants Sevilla FC. With this, they became the latest in a long line of Indian clubs that have collaborated with European entities in order to hasten their progression in terms of infrastructure and overall development. However, very few such deals have proved to be fruitful in the long term. Here we look at some of the most high-profile partnerships that failed to deliver on their initial promises.

East Bengal - Leicester City (2004)

In what was the earliest tie-up with a European club, Kolkata giants East Bengal brokered a deal with current Premier League hotshots Leicester City, way back in 2004. The collaboration was a part of the Foxes’ Asian Community Outreach Programme and was targeted at improving the English club’s image among the ethnic population in the East Midland region. The Red and Golds played an invitational friendly tournament that also featured Mallorca and Maritimo Madeira, eventually going down 1-0 against the hosts. They were also invited to a ceremonial dinner at the British House of Commons. The club’s U-16 team was also invited to train at Leicester’s academy as a part of the agreement. However, with Leicester getting relegated from the Premier League that season, East Bengal officials chose not to pursue the opportunity of extending the partnership.

East Bengal also entered into a short-term partnership with Real Madrid in 2016 that involved setting up a residential football academy in Kolkata. The arrangement saw coaches from the Spanish giants’ ‘La Fabrica’ setup come to India for three weeks and coach the first batch of players.


DSK Shivajians - Liverpool (2013)

In what was another landmark event, 19-time English Champions Liverpool FC tied up with Pune-based DSK Shivajians in 2013 to set up the Liverpool International Football Academy. In what was a move directed mostly towards youth development and information exchange, the English giants organised a nationwide talent hunt which saw youth coaches Ray Curtis and Michael Rice come down from the UK. Regular participants in the U-18 I-League, DSK Shivajians had a number of their youngsters go to Liverpool for stints with established coaches at their famed academy. Two of them, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Jerry Mawihmingthanga, are now ISL regulars for Chennaiyin FC and Odisha FC respectively. This has been one of the rare success stories in terms of the actual exposure that Indian players and coaches got.

Atletico de Kolkata - Atletico Madrid (2014)

Probably the most talked-about partnership in recent years, Atletico Madrid’s entry into the Indian football scene was hailed as a potential turning point for the development of football in the country. The Spanish club bought 25% stake in the newly formed Atletico de Kolkata which also had Kolkata Games and Sports Pvt Ltd as co-owners. ATK went on to win the first Indian Super League (ISL) title in 2014 with Luis Garcia, a former Atletico Madrid player, captaining the side. They were also assisted in the recruitment of top coaches and players from Europe, many of whom were plying their trade in Spain. However, the partnership came to an end after three seasons with the Spanish side not happy with the majority shareholders’ vision with respect to the youth development aspect of the club.

FC Pune City - Fiorentina (2014)

Italian outfit Fiorentina FC bought 15% stake in FC Pune City just ahead of the inaugural ISL season. As part of the arrangement, they would go on to help the ISL side in their foreign recruitment, both in terms of players and coaching staff. As a result, the first season saw Pune sign former France striker David Trezeguet as their marquee player besides others like Daniele Maglioccheti, Kostas Katsourainis and Emmanuele Belardi. Pune City players were also invited to use the Florence-based club’s training facilities for their pre-season. This was another deal that held a lot of initial promise which later fizzled away due to the club’s poor performance in the first two seasons.

Delhi Dynamos - Feyenoord (2014)

Dutch club Feyenoord, which was once home to former Arsenal and Manchester United player Robin Van Persie, also entered the Indian market at the same time as Fiorentina and Atletico Madrid. Their partnership with Delhi Dynamos facilitated the arrival of a number of Dutch players into the ISL outfit including Eredivisie regulars like Stijn Houber, Mads Junker and Hans Mulder, apart from coaches and other support staff. They also imbibed a distinct style of play that was reminiscent of the ‘total football’ philosophy perpetrated by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. This seemingly bright start was however just a flash in the pan with both parties ending the association after just one season.


Ongoing partnerships:

Other such ventures in recent years that have piqued the interest of the general public include FC Goa and Hyderabad FC’s partnerships with German clubs RB Leipzig and BVB Dortmund respectively, both of which were announced last year. However, the biggest newsmaker of all was City Football Group’s entry into Indian football with them taking over Mumbai City. Unlike the first two which focus mainly on youth development, the last one is believed to be more holistic in terms of the structure and future operations of the club.

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