Whilst cricket is often perceived to be the 'only sport in India', it isn't the case at all, and Liverpool's plans to open a new academy in Pune aims to help footballing development in the country.
Academy director Frank McParland spoke of their attempt to replicate the success of their existing facility on Merseyside.
"At the academy in Liverpool we aim to develop outstanding players and good human beings. The results speak for themselves, as last season seven academy players made their first-team debuts.
"We look forward to taking our knowledge and experience of developing young footballers to India."
The development of football in India received a huge boost when striker Sunil Chhetri was signed by Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon after a remarkably prolific career in India, but after a year in the B team, the 29 year old returned to his homeland, signing with Bengaluru FC.
The development of football in India has been stifled in recent years as, from an international standpoint, the team is devoid of real quality. Englishman Bob Houghton managed the team for five years, winning 44% of his games – markedly better than his successors Armando Colaco and Savio Medeira, who won 16.7% and 33.3% respectively.
There have been opportunities to improve the team though, as in 2011, current Blackpool striker Michael Chopra declared his interest in representing India, but dual citizenship law in India states that should you voluntarily acquire citizenship of another country, you are no longer considered an Indian citizen. Under FIFA laws, Chorpa was eligible to play for India through his father, but the Indian dual citizenship laws ended any hopes of turning out for them.
“India has a clear cut law. You need to be an Indian passport holder to play sport for India. Indian government does not recognize dual citizenship. Michael would have to surrender his British passport to play for India; something no man in his right mind would ever want to give up” , said All India Football Federation general secretary Kushal Das.
Whilst this isn't the only problem holding the Indian national team back, it has blocked them from offering callups to other eligible players, such as PSV Eindhoven winger Luciano Narsingh, Feyenoord midfielder Harmeet Singh, Swansea City left back Neil Taylor and even former Lyon and Milan midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo - much to the frustration of some Indian fans.
Of course, there is no guarantee that those players would've accepted the invitation to play for India, with Holland, Norway, Wales and France all appearing to be more attractive propositions on face value, but those players could improve the Indian side dramatically. With a more successful national team – India were eliminated from the 2011 Asia Cup after three defeats from three games – then perhaps children will be encouraged to pursue a career in football, rather than be persuaded to take a more stable, financial beneficial job – or even follow a path into cricket.
Liverpool's commitment to developing Indian players will hopefully allow them to unearth gems in a usually neglected area of the footballing world. The Reds have millions of fans across the world, including India, and to have a big name club attached to such a venture may even attract even more interest in football.
It's a step in the right direction in terms of improving the standard of football in India, and hopefully the national team reap the rewards of the academy – and that this isn't just a commercial venture for Liverpool.
image: © nathan17