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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Dummy Contract

A new form is being used by clubs in India in relation to signing foreign players. At the point the player applies for his visa to go to a club on trial he signs a ‘dummy’ contract with the club and usually a form of cancellation in case the club do not sign him. This enables the player to acquire an employment visa valid throughout the period of his proposed contract with the club and endorsed such that he is only able to play for that club. In this regard it streamlines and simplifies the process and if the player and the club subsequently agree terms and a new contract is signed there are no issues.

If however the player and club don’t agree terms the problems can begin. If the player receives an offer from another club whilst on trial the ‘dummy’ contract – which technically is a legally binding contract - can be used to prevent him from taking up that offer. At one level this is fair enough, in so far as if a club has paid for the players flights and accommodation etc during the trial then it’s fair and reasonable that they should have some protection from another club walking in and taking him. Equally the player has a right to make the final decision as to who he wants to play for.

A reasonable protection might be for the club that brings him over on trial to be fully reimbursed by the club he eventually signs for if the two clubs are different. As things stand the player can be prevented from signing for any other club because he has signed the ‘dummy’ contract – the ‘dummy’ contract, with lower wages etc, can be imposed by the club that brought the player over on trial if that’s what it decides to do. The player is powerless.
Even if the player signs the dummy contract but changes his mind before he flies over he can have a problem. Once the contract is signed, even if the player never sees anyone from the club, and even if the club incurs no costs, they can prevent the player from signing for another club by virtue of the dummy contract. They can demand a transfer fee to release the player even though he has not even had a trial with them and he’s not set foot outside his home country. This can’t be right.

In my experience most players would not understand the full implications of what they’re signing when they put pen to paper on the ‘dummy’ contract. If the player has an agent then the agent should know but if the full purpose and intent behind the contract is not disclosed then there’s a possibility that the justification of ‘easing the visa process’ will be accepted. This is especially true where clubs have earned a reputation for being ‘fair’ in their dealings with players. There are many instances in business more generally where protections in law are in place but without the intention of these ever being used except in extreme circumstances.

One solution would be for the player to pay his own travel costs to come on trial. Where a club pays for the player then the ‘dummy’ contract needs to be placed within a broader framework of related rules and/or understandings. Such rules and understandings should be agreed between the clubs, and with the players union, and should be fair to both sides. While the intention of the ‘dummy’ contract may have been positive its application has been fraught with difficulties which need to be addressed.       

Monday, 29 August 2011

Arsenal Debacle: Who's to Blame?

Three games in to the new season Arsenal float adrift of the title contenders, not just in points and goal difference but in class and expectation. Manchester United destroyed Arsenal with a team without many established stars and with an average age of just 23. Manchester City have evidenced their ambition and their ability. They are potential champions. Chelsea have strengthened and will challenge, as always. The top three are already defined, just the order remains to be seen. The coveted fourth spot, and entry to the lucrative Champions League, already appears to belong to Liverpool – the early indications suggest that their investment has paid off.

For Arsenal the dream has been reduced to ashes. The concept of developing a team of young stars who would mature together has been destroyed by a failure to win trophies and the lure of bigger wages for their key players offered by clubs with bigger ambitions. In 2006 Arsenal were arguably unlucky to lose the UEFA Champions League Final to Barcelona. There was little to choose between the teams. Had Arsenal won...subsequent history might have been different. Had Arsenal become Champions of Europe, had they become established as Europe’s best, would the lure of Barcelona have been quite so strong for Fabregas?

The comparative demise of Arsenal has been long in the making. Firstly the emergence of Chelsea, then the entry of Manchester City – both have redefined the landscape in terms of transfer fees and wages. Arsenal maintained their model of financial prudence, investing in young talent where the wage demands were less whereas their key competitors invested in established stars. Progressively Arsenal slipped behind, clinging to fourth place but unable to bridge the divide between contenders and champions.

The defeat to Birmingham in the Carling Cup Final is seen by many as a watershed, but perhaps that watershed came in the previous season. It was then that the team needed strengthening with genuine world-class talent that would have enabled the team not just to defeat Birmingham but push on and claim two or three titles – they were so near, and yet so far... Fabregas gave up, Nasri was unconvinced, Clichy sought greener pastures. The belief had gone. To strengthen this season was just too late.

Arsene Wenger stands accused as the architect of this demise – too stubborn, arrogant, blinkered, wedded to a flawed concept and unwilling to invest in players of the required experience and quality but is this either fair or accurate? He tried to sign Juan Matta who has made an immediate impact at Chelsea. By all accounts Matta was keen to sign, but Arsenal failed to pay the monies required under his release clause within the timeframe. The fee was apparently not the issue, the player wanted to sign, so what was the problem? Perhaps it was the personal terms?

It’s open knowledge that Arsenal operates a strict wages structure. It’s equally well known that this means Arsenal cannot compete with their primary competitors. So where does this leave Arsene Wenger? There have been rumours that Wenger has called for a revision of the wages ceiling to 150k to enable the club to sign better quality players but that this has been refused by the board. If this is the case can Arsene Wenger fairly be held accountable?

As things stand Arsenal will be among the top choices for any exceptionally talented young player wanting to gain first team experience at a high level. Arsenal will also be high on the list of clubs targeted by predatory competitors who will cherry-pick the best talent once they gain experience and develop to a higher level. Arsenal will be a staging-post not a destination, a training ground rather than a theatre of dreams.

The result at Manchester United was important because it put the situation beyond doubt. There is no question now that Arsenal needs to strengthen, that they need both quality and experience, that they need steel to add to the art. There is no question that to acquire such players Arsenal have to compete with their primary competitors, and to match or better the wages they offer. Once they do this then it will be fairer to assess the ability of a manager who has in the past proved his ability to deliver winning teams.    

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Arsenal: Time to Take Control

I’m a Middlesbrough fan although I’ve worked with Arsenal over the years and I admire the way they do business and the football that they play. The team is exciting and entertaining to watch although their inability in recent years to win trophies is frustrating. So too, at times, is their inability to hold a lead or turn vast superiority in terms of territory and possession in to goals and wins, but hey, football is football and sometimes shit happens.

This summer has heaped more levels of frustration upon frustration. Cesc Fabregas wants to play for Barcelona, Barcelona want to sign him, and even though they would prefer it if he stayed with them Arsenal are prepared to let him go. So what’s the problem? Barcelona don’t have the money to buy him. Simple. As a consequence the world has had to endure an incessant drip-drip from Barcelona (the club) and Barcelona (the city) of players, officials, coaches and politicians pleading with Arsenal to release Fabregas from his torment and allow him to return home to his ‘family’ and the love of his life, Barca...
This incessant wailing is accompanied by the undignified spectacle of the Spanish giants mortgaging players by selling them with time-defined agreed-fee buy-back options, and – just to drive the point home – Fabregas even contributing part of his new wages to meet the ransom demand. The point is that it’s not that Fabregas wants to leave Arsenal – any number of Europe’s top clubs would meet their asking price – it’s that he wants to go (only) to Barcelona. Therefore Arsenal have to accept what Barca offer or can afford to pay, after all they are the Champions of Europe, they are big boys, they deserve and get whatever they want, and to the extent that Arsenal may get mugged on the fee it is, after all, a crime of passion.

At the same time we have Samir Nasri wanting to abandon ship and join Gail Clichy at Manchester City’s band of happy campers. It has nothing to do with the ‘half-as-much-again-as-Arsenal-are-offering’ wages but is more about being part of a project that has actually delivered a trophy and promises to deliver more. Clichy has already noted the ‘tough-tackling’ in training which can only be spiced by the brooding resentment of defenders and midfielders who have been offered less than half the money given to new signing Sergio Aguero.

This time next year Nasri, will be out of contract and available without a fee. City are prepared to pay in the region of GBP20m but Arsenal want him to sign a contract extension instead offering in the region of GBP110k a week – substantially less than City are offering. So far Arsenal have insisted they would prefer to keep him, let him run his contract down and then see him go for free if in the end he decides not to stay on with the Gunners.

What we are left with is a drift in deep water. The sense of impending doom is heightened by the club’s failure to address the defensive black hole and the impending Niagra of matches against Udinese, Liverpool and Manchester United that could see Arsenal’s season submerged within weeks of it being launched. Captain Fabregas and first-mate Nasri appear desperate to abandon ship, and the rest of the crew are looking decidedly apprehensive. The time has come for someone to take control.

Nasri is an easy decision. Over the season the transfer fee that Arsenal could get for him equates to around GBP400k a week, add on his wages and you’re up to almost GBP500k a week – think about it for a moment. He has had one-half of a decent season. Sell him. For around the same money bring in Juan Mata arguably a player with greater tenacity, ability and potential. A player who would be cheaper wages wise but more committed, more consistent and a winner. This deal should have been done weeks ago.

Arsenal should state clearly and irrevocably that Barcelona can sign Fabregas if they meet the ‘open-market’ valuation and asking price of GBP40m within a specified period (one month ago should do it). If they don’t he stays. Simple. They should also state that no amount of whining or whinging by bleating mayors or pleading players will weaken that position. If Fabregas doesn’t want to lead the team, and if Barcelona can’t cobble together the cash to deliver Priority Two his place on the bench, then put him on the transfer list. This season there are six contenders for the top four places and as of now Arsenal are looking fifth at best and appear to be drifting to disaster. The time has come to take control of the situation.

From I-League to Premier League: Arsenal & Spurs Fight it Out For Starlet

Nineteen year old Rohit Chand could become the first I-League player to make the transition to the English Premier League with both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur said to be monitoring his progress. Chand, a central defender who joined I-League side HAL in 2010, is a regular in the Nepal national team and became the youngest player ever to represent Nepal when he made his debut for the senior side just twenty two days after his seventeenth birthday.

Now firmly established in the national senior team, he has been identified as a special talent by National Team Coach Graham Roberts, the former Spurs, Chelsea and England defender. With French champions Lille also showing interest the omens are good for the youngster and were he to make it to the big time he would serve as an inspiration to all of the young players both in Nepal and in the I-League who have dreams of playing for Europe’s best clubs.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Arsenal at the Crossroads of Destiny

Lest we forget, Arsene Wenger knows how to build a Championship winning football team. In 1997-98 he led Arsenal to the double, a feat he repeated in 2001-02. Two seasons later, Arsenal were again crowned champions without losing a single match in a remarkable run of 49 league games undefeated. Importantly, these successes were founded upon a mix of English steel and European flair, of established stars and emerging talent, of youth and experience.

Since then his acumen in both buying and selling players is proven beyond question. How many players have moved from Arsenal and improved themselves? At the same time his project of building a team of young players that have developed together has created a string of new stars coveted by leading clubs – Barcelona want Fabregas, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United want Nasri, Manchester City have signed Clichy, Chelsea want Walcott, and Wilshere has emerged as a key figure in the new generation of England hopefuls.

Underpinning the above has been a pay policy that sees wages more evenly distributed across the squad than is the case with the clubs leading competitors. The logic is that this binds the players closer together, that petty jealousies are reduced, and the impact of not playing regularly in the first team is not as great – your importance, as part of the squad, is recognised and rewarded.

The difficulty however is that there is less money to reward the very best players, so they are vulnerable to the temptation of higher wages on offer at other clubs. In the same way it becomes more difficult to attract the very best players because Arsenal are unable to match the wages on offer from their major competitors and, conversely, when it comes to selling some of the fringe players the wages they’re receiving are too high relative to their ability, making it difficult to find other clubs willing to pick up the burden.

If the team were winning trophies it might be less of a problem however it’s now six years since Arsenal won anything. The promise is always ‘this next season’ as the young team matures, but a career in football is short and when the opportunity appears to earn more money at a club that is already winning things who would refuse and if they did, on what logic? Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that the policy has not been successful given that throughout the rebuilding or ‘maturing’ period Arsenal have consistently finished in the top four.

Of course the competitive landscape changed when Abramovich bought Chelsea. Not only was there an additional serious contender but here was a club with comparatively unlimited resources and ambition. Then Manchester City trumped Chelsea. With Liverpool’s new owners also investing heavily in their team, and Spurs showing genuine ambition, Arsenal find themselves under severe pressure as the competition for a top four finish and entry in to the lucrative UEFA Champions League intensifies. If Arsenal are to be competitive going forward, and retain their prudent business model, then they have to increase their revenues substantially.
Deloitte’s annual review of football finance showed that 42% of Arsenal’s income is generated through gate receipts – by far the highest of any major European club, and in absolute terms only Real Madrid and Manchester United earn more from this source. Ticket prices are already the most expensive in the Premier League at a time when many of the supporters seem to be having a crisis of confidence in the club’s leadership and direction: there appears little scope for further increases in ticket prices. If revenues are to grow in this area then the club needs more matches and these can only come through success in the domestic cup competitions and in the UEFA Champions League.

Achieving an increase in broadcast and associated revenues is similarly success dependent. Progress in the Champions League, achieving a high finish in the Premier League, and doing well in the FA Cup and Carling Cup, will see more matches broadcast earning additional fees and higher ‘bonus’ payments. Other than winning more games there’s little the club can do to increase revenues from this source. That said, they rank second to Manchester United in this area, and seventh in Europe – in terms of broadcast and ticketing revenues combined only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United achieve more...

This leaves commercial income: sponsorships and merchandising etc. In terms of total revenues Arsenal rank fifth in the Deloitte’s European ‘money league’, but thirteenth in respect of commercial revenues. The kit deal with Nike was extended and runs for two more seasons. The stadium naming rights agreement with Emirates continues until 2020/21 and the associated shirt sponsorship until 2013/14. With Liverpool and Manchester United both securing shirt sponsorship agreements valued at an annual Euros 24.4 million Arsenal are to some extent disadvantaged until the Emirates shirt sponsorship expires. That said there is substantial compensation in the form of non-recurring profits from property development that bridges the gap.

There is no question that increasing commercial revenues is the major area of opportunity for Arsenal. The value in the leading brands is in their global appeal with the popularity of the Premier League giving its top clubs a significant advantage over their European rivals. Traditionally Arsenal have not focused on exploiting this by sending the team to Asia, the USA and other important markets where the team enjoys substantial support. This pre-season the trips to China and Malaysia signify a recognition that they have to abandon this reticence and be far more outward looking. If the football team is under pressure to deliver results on the field the commercial team is under no less pressure to do the same off it. The problem of course is the timeframe – it will take them some years to bridge the distance between thirteenth and top four.

Conversely, Arsene Wenger has weeks in which to build a team that can compete effectively against Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool...and in Europe, Barcelona, Real Madrid, the two Milan’s. It appears at least, that there is a crisis of faith among some of the key members of the team – having failed so consistently last season to translate potential to trophies the other contenders appear to some to play on greener grass. Clichy has gone. Fabregas and Nasri are perhaps the litmus test – if they also go then arguably the project is over. If they stay and retain the faith, if Nasri signs a new contract and Fabregas commits his heart and soul, then with a few key additions perhaps Wenger and Arsenal can prove the doubters wrong.

The stakes could not be higher. If Arsenal falls out of the top four they will lose in the region of Euro’s 30 million in Champions League revenues alone. Their capacity to compete in the wages and transfer market will be further reduced, as will their ability to attract the players they would need to turn things around. There is a real possibility of a downward spiral. In this scenario, the distance between Arsenal and their key competitors – notwithstanding the introduction of UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, or the performance of the club’s commercial team – would grow and could become unbridgeable if the present policy of financial prudence remained in place. 

With his own position more vulnerable than it has ever been during his time at the club, Arsene Wenger has mounted an articulate, intelligent and passionate (in his own understated way) defence of his project, insisting that captain Fabregas and key-man Nasri would be staying and not under duress. The team will be strengthened. It was close last season, it will be stronger, better equipped this. The sooner he is able to do this the easier it should be to persuade Fabregas and Nasri that they should keep the faith and see the project through. After all winning with this team, given their development together, should be something special.

Arsene Wenger knows what it takes to win championships and cups – the question that remains is whether or not he has the necessary resources, and the will to commit them, to bring in the key additions now that will add steel to the flair, established stars to the emerging talent and greater experience to his still young side. This is a pivotal season for Arsenal and for Arsene Wenger – the outcome will constrain or enable revenue generation and dictate the ability of the club to compete over the next decade. For football more generally, it is also a key battle in the war for financial sanity.          

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Stephen Constantine: How He Achieved A Miracle at Nea Salamina

Stephen Constantine has coached in some of the most demanding environments in world football. After his early years in Cyprus and the USA, Stephen took on the role of National Team Coach, firstly at Nepal, secondly at India followed by Malawi and then The Sudan. He returned to club football as Head Coach with Cypriot side Nea Salamina part way in to the season and with the club deep in relegation trouble. Remarkably, Stephen led the club to promotion with an amazing run of seventeen League games unbeaten immediately following his appointment. In this interview Stephen explains how he went about turning relegation candidates in to promotion winners

What was the state of the club when you took over?

The club were bottom of the 2nd Division and in a complete state of disarray; the players didn’t even have half decent training equipment nor was there a real sponsor for the team jersey - they were spending 20,000 Euros buying their equipment from Puma!!! Players had asked to leave on the one hand and on the other I was told we needed seven or eight new players. Attendances were at an all time low and there was no budget to bring in the players we needed or increase the size of the squad...

So what were your priorities when you took over?

Change the attitude to how we train, and the time we train. Under me we trained in the mornings, and the players had to report 30 minutes prior to sessions. I also addressed the standards of the staff as some of them were too casual. A key thing, given the financial difficulties at the club and the low morale around the place, was to make sure that the players were paid on time.

How did you go about achieving these?

I talked to the players to see what they were thinking, and having listened to what they were saying I changed the training they were doing. I also took them to the Royal Air Force training complex where we did psychological and team building exercises, which helped a great deal. I treated them as individuals and all were treated equally - I am fair but hard with all players.

What were the key reasons that things turned around?

I think we did a lot of work on the training field and I talked to them a lot, about what I wanted, how I wanted it and that no matter what happened we were all in this together. I spent a lot of time getting to know them and building trust and confidence in the relationship between us. Our general approach to the game changed and became far more positive.

What were the key moments/games?

Our second game under me was an away game to one of the teams going for promotion. I made a substitution on about 70 minutes and the lad scored the winning goal in a 1-2 away win. It gave us a little belief going forward and we built on that and went on an amazing seventeen game unbeaten streak. Another significant moment was after the Christmas break: we played Aris at home who were in first place some 6 points ahead of us and one of the new signings scored the winning goal as we won 1-0 and that really changed a lot of things for us.

How did you change things tactically?

We went with a 442 and really looked to press teams especially at home, everyone knew their jobs within the system and of course we trained tactically 3-4 times a week...

How did you manage to develop a winning mentality in the team?

I hate losing even in the training matches we have and I tried to make training as competitive as possible. Once we had played 3-4 games without losing the players really believed we could beat any team we played against, and we did! We lost 2 games out of a total 26 during the time since I was in charge - a really amazing run especially considering where we started from...

How did you and the team feel going in to the play-offs?

That we were unbeatable!! The only thing that could beat us was ourselves..........and in both games that we lost, one in the regular season and one in the play offs - both away I might add - we did beat ourselves!!! At no point were we outplayed or out-thought. 

How does it feel having taken the team from a relegation position to a promotion?

As you can imagine it feels absolutely fantastic, to take a team who were in last place and looking to avoid relegation to finishing the league in first place, then the play offs where we finished second....I am very proud of what we achieved........

Looking back, what would you say your major achievements were?

I think the unbeaten run we went on, the way we played, we had the best defence, the best attack in the league; to see a player who was not even in the eighteen man squad before I came end up being one of the best players in the league; all four of my signings were a success and were instrumental in taking us up. Of course being promoted is the ultimate when you consider where we were and we were tipped to go down to the Third Division...there are actually a lot of positives and a lot of satisfaction for the fans, the club, the players and for me

How does this success compare to other successes you’ve had?

I think this is one of the best things I’ve achieved given the dire situation we were in and doing it in a European league is that much harder. Many of the other successes I’ve had don’t always jump out at you, although in Nepal we did am amazing thing in winning their first ever trophy at any level, and we won trophies in India too. 

In Malawi I was there for 18 months and while we didn’t win trophies I brought new players into the team and laid the foundations for the success the Flames have had over the last few years; qualification to the ACN was brilliant with all of my players and my assistant coach as well! They did very well and look good for the next ACN...

Sudan was a tremendous challenge and there is great talent there, the players are willing and able to play at a higher standard that’s for sure. I tried to change the old guard as we had a squad of players where the average age was 32 and my remit was ‘build us a new team’. I went all over the Sudan and saw players that made me feel the future was bright. In my first game against Mali we drew 1-1 at home and had 5 players under 23 playing for the first time!! They are still in with a good chance to qualify for the ACN for a second consecutive time, Malawi have their fate in their own hands and hopefully they can also qualify.

I could have achieved a lot more in Sudan and Malawi if I’d had more time and more support – it’s a shame that too many African Nations don’t think more about the players and the long term picture as they would surely have much better results then they currently get. There is so much talent in Africa but too many people think about what they can get out of it themselves as opposed to what they can give!

What will be your priorities going in to the new season?

Since the club were promoted there have been quite a few changes which have given the club more stability. We’ll need to strengthen the team and the squad, and then we’ll see how it goes. My contract was up so there was an element of doubt – people can quickly forget where they were and how much has changed – but I’m happy to say all that’s been sorted out. We’ll have the smallest budget in the top division so we have a great challenge ahead of us. I’m optimistic we can build on the progress we made last season and surprise a few people. Most at the club will be happy to stay up, for me and the players we’ll be aiming much higher than that. Let’s see what happens...

What are your longer-term ambitions as a coach?

It has always been the same for me: win the next game, and coach at the highest level. For me that means a top league, Champions League, World high as I can go...... I believe a great deal in my abilities and I’ve shown that I’m not afraid to test myself by taking on a tough challenge.

I do feel that I’ve proven over the years what I’m capable of. With every challenge faced, and every success and achievement the desire to succeed is greater than ever. The fact I have been all over the world and done well is, I think, testament to my ability to change and adapt to my surroundings, to recognise talent, and to make a positive difference no matter how tough the circumstances or how little the resources.  

Saturday, 21 May 2011

What Now For Indian Football?

With the resignation of Bob Houghton Indian football once again stands at the crossroads with its own unique set of challenges to address. The debate will begin once again as to the relative merits of an Indian or a foreign coach, and of the style of football that is best suited to the Indian player. As the rest of the planet continues to develop and refine its football to ever more sophisticated levels, India can’t afford to stand still and contemplate the meaning of life in its own little universe. There is a saying: ‘crisis is change trying to take place’ - now is the time for change.

Shortly after Bob Houghton was appointed I was talking to Jon Rudkin, Academy Director at Leicester City, who had worked with the India u17’s in Kolkata and at City’s Academy. Jon considered Bob an outstanding coach. One of the difficulties Bob faced however was that as the national coach he was working with a ‘finished product’ – by the time they came to him the players had been through their key developmental years. Their potential had been defined by the system in which they had been brought up. They were prisoners of a process that systematically failed to make the most of their raw ability.

At the same time, football in India is constrained by the power of cricket. It saturates media coverage, it swamps the TV channels, and it sucks up advertising and sponsorship revenues – and that was before the IPL. Central to this was the India national cricket team – with the demise of hockey and the failure of football the nation unites to find its pride in the performance of its cricket team. That you wouldn’t need the fingers of two hands on which to count the other contenders doesn’t matter. It’s still the ‘world’ cup...and in 1986 India had won it, and has now just won it again.

While on the one hand cricket starves football (and other sports) of resources, on the other hand it sets the expectation and the entry fee. To compete with cricket the India national football team had to be a ‘world-class’ power. Only then would it garner the mass national support that would unlock the media coverage to promote it, and access the associated sponsorship and advertising revenues. If football in India was to progress, it had to have an India team that at the very least could compete against the best in Asia.

The challenge Bob faced was to provide a successful India team using players who had been brought up in a system that had failed them. India may have the desire to play possession football in the style of Spain but it doesn’t have the players with the technical ability to do that. Instead a system has to be used which is ‘effective’. It may be more direct, less possession based, less technically demanding but more consistent with the capabilities of the players and so more likely to produce results. To prepare for the Asian Cup Bob was given unprecedented resources and time with the players, but in the end he was always destined to ‘fail’ if measured against the expectations of a cricket-crazy ‘world-class’ nation.

So what now for India? The starting point has to be a change in expectation, not in terms of the destination but in accepting a more realistic timeframe for getting there. Let’s understand and accept the distance that needs to be covered but recognise as well the potential that India has. Disproportionately male, disproportionately young, one sixth of the worlds’ population: logic defies anyone who suggests there isn’t a world-class football team in there somewhere! The challenge is to find it given the sheer scale of India, of the numbers and geography involved...

If the present players can’t play to the level and in the style of Spain then perhaps the younger ones can – the Spanish, like Indians, are not the tallest team in the world but they are still European champions and World Cup winners. India should also note the rise of Japan – physically smaller players, technically increasingly good, and with fantastic work and team ethics. To move from where we are now to where we want to be is however, not quick or simple. Let’s accept that there will be pain in the process of change and give the new national team manager a much broader remit, with a longer timeframe, and more willingness to accept defeats and setbacks along the way.

Perhaps we also need to look more at the remit of the next national coach. India needs qualified, experienced and capable coaches, and longer-term the vast majority of these will be Indian. India needs academies and soccer schools, it needs playing fields and indoor centres, and it needs to be playing football in schools the length and breadth of India. To some extent Bob Houghton had little choice other than to ‘sacrifice’ the I-League in favour of the national team: the new national coach should have this conflict removed by being given responsibility for the overall development of football coaching in India.

This should go beyond the German example of getting club coaches ‘in-sync’ with the way the national team wants to play, to include overseeing coach education and development programs for I-League coaches, identifying and developing ‘raw’ elite coaching talent, and for establishing a framework for the education of coaches and teachers in schools. It would also include taking responsibility for the selection and coaching of elite young players, and educating coaches who perform these functions including at club/academy level.

What is perceived as the perpetual failure of Indian football is not the failure of any individual national head coach but of a system that needs strengthening and revolutionary change. The coming together of IMG and Reliance Industries, and their acquisition of Indian football rights, is great news in this respect. IMG are world-class in the business of sport. Reliance knows how to make money in India, and how to navigate the territory that needs to be covered to get to where we need to be. Together they form a formidable alliance that is more than capable of transforming Indian football.

When Houghton’s success or failure is being considered let’s start with a realistic analysis of the expectations and constraints he was working under. When considering his successor, let’s think first about what the scale and scope of the job should be, or alternatively, whether or not we should appoint a Technical director to work alongside the national coach. When we strategise the development of football in India more generally, let’s locate the priorities with a holistic approach, and a long-term perspective, whilst looking for ‘big-wins’ in the short to medium term as well. Whoever the next national coach is, and whatever his remit might be, expect Reliance and IMG to be centrally involved in making these decisions, which has to be a positive. That they are also key players in the IPL adventure, should give us all still more reason for hope.