Delhi football is heading for a complete revamp. With a competent professional at the helm, the Delhi football administrative body is determined to enforce complete professionalism to uplift the sport in the capital. The process may be slow and long, but changes are evident. It has begun with the name. The Delhi Soccer Association is Football Delhi now. Corporates are coming on board as partners to give a financial push to football in Delhi and plans are afoot to launch a professional league.
The Football Delhi president Shaji Prabhakaran in a candid chat with insidesport.co shared his vision and roadmap to make Delhi football competent and financially self-reliant. Here are the excerpts.
Insidesport: Delhi Soccer Association has been rechristened Football Delhi. As the saying goes ‘what is there in the name’. Changing the name is just a cosmetic exercise and among the easiest ones, too.
Shaji Prabhakaran: It is a complete change from the structure in the Delhi football, from branding to different activities. The name (Delhi Soccer Association) was not the modern thing. Soccer is not related to football in India. It is an American term. Football needed to come in and the organization name needed to be such that there is something modern, which gives a lot of hope and aspiration. However, changing the name is one thing and to reflect that change in our activity is more important. We are ensuring by working in a very transparent manner and engaging all stakeholders like government, municipalities, schools, association members, clubs, officials, office bearers, players, referees, coaches and associates proactively. We are ensuring that everyone should feel this positivity and that will bring in the basic change.
Our committee is taking proactive decisions and all the decisions being unanimous is the key factor.
IS: Plans are grand and ambitious. However, these can’t succeed unless you have a self-reliant, self-sufficient financial structure in place.
SP: We (the new DSA administrative body) are completing 50 days in office. We have managed to get two commercial partners. We will make formal announcements soon. At this stage, all I can say is that they are big brands. Money coming through this association might not be too big, but the association with these brands reflects the confidence of top corporate to invest in the Delhi football. This will help us to initiate the other aspects of corporate funding.
We have also got another corporate partner, Expereal, on board. They are in charge of the entire branding of Football Delhi. They will be our brand partners. They will also bring in corporate support for Football Delhi.
DLF in the past has sponsored the Delhi Soccer Association League, but there hasn’t been this kind of corporate commitments.
IS: The football administration in Delhi runs from a corner room at the Ambedkar Stadium. A good office is the basic and elementary need to force major changes and inculcate a corporate culture of governance.
SP: It is not the office what we want. We definitely want the State government or the municipalities to help us get better space for the office. We are planning to hire three professionals – a general secretary, a technical director and a finance manager – by February end. We will advertise for these positions soon. We have secured required funding for these full-time recruitments.
IS: It is important to develop the sport at grass roots level. The clubs hardly have any junior programme. Junior football is one prime area of concern if the sport has to develop in the real sense in the Capital. What are your plans?
SP: We are discussing at multiple levels with the State Government, NDMC, Municipalities, Schools to collaborate and bring more students into football and also initiate and strengthen coach education activities. Our Santosh Trophy and women’s teams are under training to ensure that they perform better than what they have performed in the last two years. So we are focusing on short term and long term development programmes. People have a lot of expectations from us.
IS: Professional coaching structure is another key aspect of skill development. How do you plan to address this concern?
SP: We have roped in coaches in a very transparent and professional manner. We had called applications. The applicants were interviewed and the deserving candidates were selected on merit. We are adopting the same professional approach to hiring the three key management professionals.
IS: The erstwhile Delhi Soccer Association was functioning on a fixed template for decades. How is old guard responding to the changes? How is the acceptance for the new corporate structure of governance you are trying to establish?
PS: They (the DSA old team) are very open to suggestions and changes. Each decision is taken in consultation with everyone at the management committee level in an absolute democratic manner. So far I have been getting unanimous support for the changes we have planned or implemented so far. Everyone gets an opportunity to speak and share his experience and opinion. Each member is made to understand why these changes are required, what are the goals we want to achieve. Every member is made a part of the process for change. They all get empowered in this process. Everything is decided on a logical basis.
I won’t say there are no challenges. It’s a slow process.
IS: Delhi football has a number of age-old clubs. But there is not much activity for these clubs, except for the DSA League and a few competitions. What are your plans to re-energize and reactivate these clubs?
SP: Most of the clubs are at a stage where we need to really activate them. That is one major challenge. We are aiming to make them an important part of this entire process. It is a challenge that how we strengthen them, how we make them more relevant in the professional football environment. A football club doesn’t mean 15 days of activity in year and then there is nothing to do for the remaining 350 days. There is a focused approach towards making them a 365-day active football club. We are working on plans to build their capacity by adding resources to these clubs. Clubs are the center of this entire process to force change.
There is no point in strengthening Football Delhi if clubs don’t grow professionally and competitively from where they stand at present. A cultural change is needed at the club level to see a change in football in the Capital. That will be our prime area of concern where we will remain majorly focused over the next four years.
IS: What is the roadmap to achieve your goals in a timely manner?
SP: We are working towards having a very close collaboration with the government. The idea is to associate the clubs with schools. The clubs can use the school grounds and in turn can provide training to the school kids. The system will create mutual benefit and increase the talent pool. We have already had preliminary meetings with the Chief Minister, Mr. Arvind Kejrival, and the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Manish Sisodia, who also holds the Education portfolio for the State. We are also meeting the NDMC and the three MCDs. We will convince them on how we can put a value-based system in place for each stake holder’s benefit.
IS: You have been associated with the governance of the Delhi United Football Club. Doesn’t that create some kind of a conflict of interests with your present role as the head of the Delhi football administrative body?
SP: There is no conflict of interest. Everyone in the association is from a club. It is like saying that Mr. Narendra Modi cannot be a part of the Bharatiya Janta Party to be the Prime Minister. Only clubs representatives come into the Delhi football administration. This is the part of the structure. The conflict of interest situation means an office-bearer giving any specific benefits to his own club? Or, he is taking decisions in the interest of his own club. I have ensured transparency in the entire process and functioning. There can never be a conflict of any nature.
Our constitution does allow only the football club members to get into the 21-member executive body.
In fact, ever since my election to the Delhi football association office, I have not taken a single decision for Delhi United Football Club. I have also quit as the club president. It is practically not possible to run Delhi football and the club simultaneously. Now the Delhi football is my top priority.
IS: Delhi definitely needs a better competitive structure for football. How will you ensure that?
SP: We will be adding a Pro League above the existing DSA League where new clubs can also come in at the top. The existing clubs can also be part of the league if they fulfill certain criteria like meeting the Asian Football Confederation or the All India Football Federation licensing requirements. We are also working on enlarging the time duration of each league. Each league needs to be organised in a much better way in a scheduled manner. That is another area of concern, which we have prioritized.
We are also planning a school league and a women’s league for Delhi State. The idea is to ensure a year-long competitive football calendar. That is very important to create a football culture for the growth of the sport. Then there will also be different age category youth leagues.
Prabhakaran has been a former international football federation (FIFA) development officer for South and Central Asia. As a competent football professional, the Delhi football association president has a proven professional record in Football Management, Football Development, Sports Management., Planned & Executed Change Management Process, Project Management, Sports Business Development, Event Planning & Operations, Strategic Planning & Development, Sports Grassroots Development & School Sports, Football Coaching & Team Management, Player Development, Fitness Programming & Management, Sports Research,s Sports Project Planning & Analysis, Partnership Development, Negotiations – Funding & Sponsorship, Government & Political Leadership Policy Matters, Media and Public Relationship and Community Projects.