Disruptors, pathbreakers, winners – Kickstart FC are all of these things and so much more
With a strong focus on grassroots as well as the holistic development of young footballers, Bangalore club Kickstart FC is headed in the right direction. CFO Rajesh Kumar G tells us why.
If there is one entity in Karnataka that has made the entire footballing community sit up and take notice just by virtue of their performances in the last few seasons, it has to be Kickstart FC. The Bangalore-based club has teams across various age groups and competes in the BDFA Super Division in the men's game as well as the Karnataka Women's League (KWL), winning the latter with aplomb just a couple of months back. Their women's team will now play in the Indian Women's League (IWL) later this year. The club also has their own foundation which works with players who come from underprivileged backgrounds and hones their skills so as to equip them for a better future.
Speaking exclusively to The Bridge, Mr. Rajesh Kumar G., the Secretary of Kickstart Foundation and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Kickstart FC, underlined why exactly the club has been at the forefront of the footballing revolution in Karnataka. "We try to go out into rural areas and get the kids introduced to football at a young age. Then comes the more important part which is to provide them with quality education besides their football training as well as inculcating essential life skills," he explained.
Being around people who have worked in this sphere obviously helps, and he acknowledges the role that someone like Mr. Satya Narayan, the President of the foundation, plays in strengthening its vision. Mr. Narayan has spent more than three decades in print media and has worked with a number of acclaimed publications. From interviewing Pele and Maradona to working with lesser fortunate kids in the farthest corners of India, his experience plays a huge role in directing the entire team's efforts towards causes that matter.
However, it is Rajesh's relationship with Founder and Chairman of Kickstart FC, Mr. Shekar Rajan, where it all started from. The duo have known each other for the past 17 years and have been partners-in-crime for much of that time. A quintessential finance guy, Rajesh completed his MBA in Finance and International Business and was then working at a call centre where Shekar was his trainer. "He used to take a number of sessions on important concepts like emotional intelligence, leadership, team building and so on. My tendency to cross question all his ideas actually brought us close and it was after that in 2007 when he asked me if I would join him at Atmosphere Training and Consulting. For the next 7 years we worked together in the training business following which he offered me a role at Kickstart," the soft-spoken Rajesh recalled.
And what a journey it has been! Since then, Kickstart FC has emerged as one of the premier clubs in the city of Bangalore and today have more than 200 players in their academy and in various age brackets. Coaches from Europe, specifically The Netherlands, work in close tandem with the coaches here to create a well-rounded blueprint for each individual team, both in terms of their recruitment as well as playing strategy and training. Which makes one think, is an I-League or 2nd Division I-League appearance on the cards soon?
"Absolutely. People like Shekar, Laxman (Founder and CEO), Raghu (Governing Council Member and Advisor) and Satya Narayan all live and breathe football. They are the main pillars in terms of improving on the field and bringing about positive changes off it. My belief in these people makes me confident that Kickstart FC is moving in the right direction and we do have some big plans for the next couple of years," Rajesh elaborated before adding, "They initially wanted to hand me the role of Director but I was happy to stay in the background with Shekar and Laxman at the forefront. Being a finance guy, I am used to being out of the spotlight and instead like to focus on just getting the job done."
Even though winning the KWL and their recent performances have been a bright spark, the current situation with the pandemic has halted their ambitions somewhat. Even then, Rajesh believes that the work that the coaching staff puts in everyday in keeping the teams ready and motivated is something that will always give them the competitive edge.
"Even amidst Covid, our coaches worked really hard to build the team for the recently concluded season. They collate relevant data for players from across the country and even abroad and study them extensively. After that, we do our internal research, go and see the players if possible and only then do we approach them with a concrete offer," he explained. Then once they sign with the club, the management brings them to Bangalore, studies them in training, assimilates further data based on physical metrics and even tries to understand what their passions are in life. A pretty fool-proof strategy one would imagine, but something that Rajesh admits took them years to perfect.
So what lies next for the club? Where do they go from here and what are their realistic ambitions for the future?
"For every upcoming club in the country, the target is obviously the I-League and the Indian Women's League (IWL) for the men's and women's teams respectively. That is where the exposure is and all the eyeballs are. We have already proven our mettle with the women's team and I'm extremely confident that our men's team will scale similar heights in the next 2-3 years. We are almost there, and I truly believe that with the kind of people that we have in the Kickstart family, their passion will take us to the top," he signed off in his typically calm baritone, a calmness that is quite in contrast to the flutter that they have created in disrupting the status quo in Bangalore football.