Champions of the Indian Super League’s (ISLs) inaugural season, Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) have done splendid work over the past two years in promoting grassroots football in the city. In 2015 they brought West Bengal’s Indian Football Association’s (IFA) Nursery League back to life. Although their second run in the league was not as successful as the first, the club is still doing what they can for the sport. Co-owners, Sanjiv Goenka and Utsav Parekh are both focused on setting up a football academy in the city and promoting the sport. At their proposed academy, bright young stars can focus on football training while continuing with their academics as well.
Since January 16th, ATK has conducted 16 grassroots initiatives with 2862 young footballers. The club’s coaches shortlisted 131 footballers who were aged 13, and 202 footballers who were aged 12 and under to participate in their final selections at Bidhannagar Municipality Ground on March 30th and 31st. At the final selections, the ATK coaches looked for the best 30 or 40 players who they would train at their academy. But they weren’t looking alone. A team of 4 coaches from Atletico Madrid flew down to help the former ISL champions in their search for the city’s best young talents.
“Our aim is to promote football and develop state-of-the-art infrastructure for the beautiful game in Bengal. Grassroots development is aligned to our commitment made to uplift and scout for the best of the football talent for the future. There is indeed no dearth of talent and potential but channelising them towards their respective goals is our priority as well as our responsibility.” – Utsav Parekh, Co-Owner, ATK
While in town, the Atletico Madrid coaches also conducted a Coach the Coaches programme. About 60 coaches from football centres all over West Bengal attended the programme and learnt a lot from the La Liga club’s coaches. This kind of coach education will be critical for ATK in developing good coaches who will be able to, in turn, develop good footballers through the club’s grassroots activities and academy.
While Atletico de Kolkata is doing a great job by themselves, the impending deal between I-League’s East Bengal and Spanish giants Real Madrid is sure to further boost grassroots football not only in the city of Kolkata, but also in the state of West Bengal.