Published: 28th March 2019
What happens when two football-crazy IIT grads meet India's greatest footballer? The Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, of course
The Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools aims to provide a platform to nurture young talent through their in-house training and development programmes. We find out more from the founders
Football as a sport is quite popular in India, but sadly not as popular as the game of cricket. (I would disagree though as I was born and brought up in Bengal and trust me, people there eat, sleep and breathe football!) The I-League was formed in 2007 in an attempt to professionalise domestic football and in the year 2013, the Indian Super League was formed with eight teams to promote Indian football in the country and the world. Despite these efforts, our national football team has still not qualified for the World Cup for more than 60 years. Although children have shown interest in the game at a local level, their parents are still not too keen to let their kids pursue a career in the sport.
Like many of these children, Anurag Khilnani and Kishore Taid grew up with the dream of becoming professional footballers but ended up as engineers. Upon further analysis, these two IIT Delhi alumni realised that the root of the problem was in the lack of a football culture which results in the lack of proper training facilities and technical guidance at the grassroots level. They wanted to tackle this problem head-on.
Anurag and I studied Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Delhi and used to represent the college team together. Incidentally after our graduation, we also got jobs in the same company (Morgan Stanley, Mumbai), however, I went on to do a management course from IIM Ahmedabad, while Anurag decided to work. Five years later, in 2009, after I had joined UBS, Anurag and I met again in Mumbai and discussions about doing something for our beloved sport began
Kishore Taid, Co-founder, Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools
They realised that the problem began from the school level itself and that each institution would need a training academy. And who better than the torchbearer of Indian football to lend his name and fame to their vision! Anurag and Kishore began pursuing the 'Sikkimese Sniper' Bhaichung Bhutia and their prayers were answered when he decided to meet them in January 2010. The player, excited and confident, agreed at once to the duo's idea of taking football training to the global level. "Bhaichung is a role model for a lot of young people who love Indian football. His leadership skills and contribution are unmatched in the football industry today," says Kishore.
BBFS has developed an end-to-end tech platform that monitors real-time progress based on data analytics to deliver customised training programmes for individual players. This is how the product works:
This tech is currently at the testing stage. They have implemented it in a few training groups. The players play with a wearable device that tracks their movement and records data like intensity, work rate, speed and so on.
Over time, the data collected evolves into rich data to help train students to become better with each passing year as coaches will be enabled to use this data to understand a player’s football journey and come up with customised programmes for them. The device not only helps the trainers benchmark and monitor the progress of each player, but also reduce the gap between planning and execution of their training sessions with respect to intensity and periodisation objectives.
The future of this would be to use Machine Learning to provide customised advice to players for individual workouts, nutrition plans etc.
Anurag and Kishore immediately quit their jobs and the trio founded the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) in August 2010. "The aim is to help kids and the youth adapt and enjoy the game from an early age and guide them through their experience with football. Our mantra is 'Play, Learn, Master' which means whether a kid wants to simply enjoy the game, learn a bit of skill or become a professional footballer, BBFS is there to assist them," explains Kishore. In this cricket-crazy nation, the duo actually believes that there are more children playing football at the grassroots level than cricket in our country. "It may be surprising but if you Google this, you will find more football than cricket academies in the organised sector. So, the kids are already into the game, we just need to strengthen our structure to ensure each one gets an equal opportunity to enjoy the game," he says.
Young talent: According to BBFS, there are approximately 15 million children between the age of 5 to 17 who are interested in learning sports in an organised setup (Pic: BBFS)
Reaching out to the youth
BBFS has a combination of paid and scholarship-based programmes to ensure that talented individuals from economically weaker sections are not deprived of the best football coaching in India. "We just opened our 70th centre in the 20th city of our presence in India. The idea is to reach out to all cities so that the same basic standardised level of coaching can be offered to each young player in the country. One of the centres is a residential school, where children from across the country can join to avail end-to-end facilities such as academics, accommodation, nutrition in addition to high-quality football training," adds Kishore. BBFS aims to provide a platform to nurture young talent through their in-house training and development programmes which are specifically designed and executed by qualified Indian football coaches and instructors. They even have resident European instructors on board.
Subsidised rates: Since their inception, they have subsidised rates for talented players from economically weaker sections that form at least 20 per cent of their current student base (Pic: BBFS)
Their first centre
The first-ever BBFS centre was set up in Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi in 2010. Having saved up some money from their time working at multinational investment banks, Anurag and Kishore didn’t take any funding from investors. All three of them — Bhaichung, Anurag and Kishore — pooled in about Rs 10 lakh, which helped them start the business from scratch and then go ahead with it for the first eight years. Their major sources of revenue are the subscription fees paid by their students and the revenue from organising football events. They also have an excellent team leading their operations and growth. "I would like to mention two people in particular, who have been instrumental in setting up the company. Sunil Patwal, our Chief Technical Officer, and Ankit Arora, who left a cushy corporate job to join us way back in 2011," says Kishore.
What does Bhaichung Bhutia have to say?
There are plenty of football academies that have come up in the last few years. How is the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools different?
BBFS has been a pioneer of game-based training methodology in India. I was lucky to be guided by Carlos Queiroz in our initial years while setting up the curriculum for our academy. Now, we also have a residential academy where we provide up to 100 per cent of scholarships to highly talented players. It is a dream come true for me personally to be able to help gifted young players from different parts of the country with the help of the academy.
What do you think is the future of football in the country?
I think football has a great future, it is already very popular amongst kids. When we started off in 2010, it was a bit of an unknown concept but now, the perception is definitely changing.
Among the evident cricket-craze, how many parents are willing to send their children to a football academy or let them create a career in football?
We are seeing a lot of parents who are looking for professional football academies like BBFS. Now there are also the national youth leagues in India where U13, U15 and U18 players can participate and get spotted straight for national teams. In my opinion, the AIFF should strengthen and widen the base of these youth leagues both at the local and national level.
What's the plan, boys?
About their gameplan for the next few years, Kishore says, "Similar to this year, we plan to continue growing at the rate of 2-3 times each year for the next few years. At the same time, we want to enhance both our technical and technological capabilities like never before. We believe in the fact that our business, knowledge and know-how are the biggest differentiators, hence, we shall continue to invest heavily on this front as we expand so that the end-consumer benefits the most."
We hope that their rigorous approach will steer the country in the right direction and (fingers crossed) help us qualify for the World Cup pretty soon!