"Football and education have to go hand-in-hand to produce champions": Rebels FC co-founder Preetham Chandra
With a strong focus on grassroots development in football, Rebels FC are slowly emerging as one of the premier club sides in Bangalore.
When we think about football in India, we think about the Kolkata derby, the 50s and the 60s, the Goa clubs and so on. What never finds any real estate in any conversation regarding the game is grassroots development. It is true that charting a financially stable career in football is way more difficult than say, cricket. However, unless we focus on the work that has to be done behind the scenes during the formative years of our youngsters, we will be lagging behind, even in Asia.
Sharing a similar opinion on grassroots football is Rebels FC co-founder Preetham Chandra. Formed by a group of friends as an amateur club in North Bangalore way back in 2006, it took the best part of the last five years to finally make the entire setup as professionally run as it is today. Now, the club plays across a number of divisions, for both girls and boys, run by the Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) as well as the Bangalore District Football Association (BDFA). It is also recognized by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as a premier residential football academy and club.
But the focus has remained the same according to Mr. Chandra, 'grassroots'. That is where the organisation wants to make its mark in the long run. "We noticed that there is a dearth of educational institutions for football in Bangalore, and in India as a whole. That is where the desire to provide a platform for our youngsters to develop and be a part of the footballing ecosystem germinated from," he says about the start of it all.
Today we have a senior team that plays in the Karnataka 'B' Division and a reserve team that plays in the 'C' Division. We also have our youth teams wherein the U17 side participated in the recently concluded Karnataka Youth League. Finally, we launched the country's first female residential academy in Yelahanka last year following which we played the 'A' Division qualifiers and consequently earned a place in the Super Division," Mr. Chandra explains.
Unlike the girls' academy, the boys' facility in Devanahalli has been in operation since 2017 and has seen a number of players graduate into playing in the I-League second division. The curriculum in both academies has three core components. Firstly, the infrastructure that the players have access to. This involves the training grounds, the gymnasium, residential arrangements and so on. Then comes the coaching and guidance that the players get at the academy led by Technical Director Mr. Ajit Braich and administered at the campus by top-level Indian coaches with UEFA and AFC coaching badges.
Finally, the third component is career opportunities. "The approach that we have towards building these young people's careers is that we focus on either making them top players who can then go on to play for I-League/ISL clubs, or top professionals in varied aspects of sports like physical educators, physiotherapists, coaches and instructors," Mr. Chandra quips.
The most important aspect of their curriculum is the involvement that institutions like Akash International School and Seshadripuram Education Trust amongst others have in curating it. They understand the nitty-gritties of building a well-rounded sportsperson. "What they also do well is being flexible in terms of the balance between football and studies. Of course, we ensure that the students attend their classes regularly, but they are given a little more leeway to ensure there is room for them to introspect on whatever they do in a day. What we try to do is make the learning as experiential as possible," is how he puts it.
The curriculum has been designed in a way that students can join in the middle of the year as well. With an array of different syllabi that they can choose from, there is something in it for everyone. And the plan has been working so far. Two girls from the academy recently joined PIFA in Maharashtra while two others are playing for clubs in Kerala. Moreover, as many as six boys from Rebels are currently playing in the super division, while the vice-captain of the team is currently trying his luck at Churchill Brothers in Goa.
The scouting of the players also reflects the vision of Mr. Chandra of promoting Rebels FC as a microcosm of the footballing industry as a whole. The marketing is mostly done online, while those visiting for trials stay there for four days and get a first-hand tour of the entire campus wherein they are made to get used to the overall setup.
All things said and done, the entrepreneur still believes that the biggest challenge facing them, especially in women's football, is convincing the parents that there can be a career in the sport. That being said, he also feels that the future lies in ensuring that most of the players can grow and develop into elite individual talents in their own right. Right now though, it is time for Bangalore and the rest of India to sit up and take notice of the brilliant job that Mr. Chandra and his team are doing at Rebels, for we need more such initiatives if we are to ever develop a proper footballing culture in India.