AUGUSTO RODRIGUES | NT
Ranjit Bajaj is one club owner who stuck his neck out trying to give the I-League its due place in Indian football. In his battle to get clarity on the road map for football in India, he had to fight money bag – Football Sports Development limited (FSDL) and a federation – All India Football Federation (AIFF) that was ready to sacrifice clubs that nurtured football for years.
Ranjit may not have won the battle but has, in his fight, along with other clubs of the I-League – managed to get a road map for football in India which has colours of success. “It is a victory with a very big compromise. In fact, overnight, the top league of the country was converted into the second division and it is for the first time in the history of football that a league is being demoted,” avers Ranjit as he sips his coffee and mulls over the road map.
“We have managed to get some assurances and if things go the way they have been planned, then football has a future. Sporting merit is the corner stone of football and if it is embraced, we are on the right track,” believes Ranjit.
Ranjit is not just the owner of a club that once won the title of the I-League but is also the owner of a club that is unmatched in grass root development in India. Eighty four boys from the Punjab FC academy have played for India, in different age groups, since its establishment four years back and that is why he believes that a football system eco system can be created only after the financial profits are reaped back into the game.
“Look at what the BCCI has done with the IPL. The IPL is the property of BCCI and all the money it has earned through the IPL is being spent on infrastructure that is helping youth development in remotest parts of India. Cricket grounds in the poorest places in India have equipment worth in lakhs; they are creating the best of infrastructure and that is why cricket in India is where it is today,” reasons Bajaj.
“Football and hockey are two games dominated by almost the same countries and yet India is there amongst the best countries in hockey and we are nowhere in football. A link is missing because there is something wrong in football in India and it is because of the way the game is being run,” thinks Ranjit.
“Money that is earned from football needs to be put back. But there are some who have got into football and want the old system to prevail because it allows them to make money whilst the game will be smeared with artificial flavour. Because the system was so bad, no one complained or made a noise when Dempo SC, the winner of the I-League for five years backed out. This is the problem in football. Priorities are skewed up to favour a few and not the game,” laments Ranjit.
Yet, Ranjit believes there is hope. “In the meeting in Kuala Lumpur it was decided that in three years clubs from the I-League will start getting an entry into sports. So, now we know and I personally will be investing money on youth development in these three years and reap the profits once we are able to compete to join the ISL,” confesses Ranjit.
“My initial plan was to sell the club to Roundglass. However, on the day I was to sign the agreement I read a clause that stated that I would not be able to make any tweets or comments on football for three years after I sold the club. I was shocked and walked away without signing. I was told by the men I was signing the deal with that the clause was explicitly asked to be inserted by AIFF,” divulged Ranjit whilst elaborating on the clubs new partnership.
“Round glass is now looking after the teams different age group teams whilst I handled the seniors and the boys from the age of five to seven years. Our grass root programme is being managed by all UEFA Pro license coaches. This is the deal I have got for the children of India,” blushes Ranjit.
“We select our five year old boys, on checking their decision making ability and ability to make space. It is too early but there are boys who show they have that ability and those are picked,” confides Ranjit.
“Japan is looking at winning the World Cup in 2050 and we
are thinking of qualifying in 2028. How unimaginable can we be? We have to be
realistic and that realism will fructify once we start ploughing back into the
sport what is accrued from it. It will happen and I, at least, am working in
that direction. It will take me time but I know I will reach there,”