Albion Strengthens Ties with Asian Community

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Written by Bibhash Dash

West Bromwich Albion’s strong link with the Asian population is showing rewards at the Hawthorns these days, but the next generation of Baggies stars may not quite come from just round the corner.

 

Adil Nabi and Saido Berahino have become British Asian role models in the UK, even as West Brom look to tap into the Indian market for their next rising star.

 

At a time when some Premier League clubs look certain to alienate some, if not all, of their fan bases, going down to community roots is becoming a useful way to stay afloat.

 

Then perhaps there is no better place than New Delhi, the cosmopolitan heart of India, to unearth talent from a country that is increasingly becoming “saturated” with cricket.

 

“We want to try and find the next Premier league player and, naturally, we want to focus on a country that has a real passion for football,” Adrian Wright, sales and marketing director for West Brom, tells me as the Baggies youth coaches take in a day of Sunday league football at Delhi’s DPS RK Puram school.

 

In recent days, more than a thousand kids turned up for a trials session at the British School in the Indian capital, with the sole aim of catching the eye of West Brom’s Indian partners, Youth Football International (YFI). The fog and cold notwithstanding, ages nine and upwards went through drill sessions and short games to impress YFI’s international mix of coaches. Two Englishman, a Japanese, a Spaniard and a Dutchman – all with European coaching qualifications – oversee the efforts, hoping to pick a good enough mix of talented kids to present West Brom for selection.

 

The Baggies are thinking bigger. With clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool already attempting inroads in India, it remains to be seen what impact West Brom’s foothold plans will have. The start seems promising enough. “We’ve heard some stories based on what the other clubs have been doing on this franchise model,” Adrian explains. “Which is that they take the badge of the club and they franchise the academy as well. We don’t want to do that.

 

“We want to make sure that whoever we work with, and YFI being our selected partner, they have all the expertise. We will be regularly flying out our coaches who will train coaches on the ground here, and will also enable us to coach the kids.”

The Delhi Youth League, attended also by kids living out of international embassies, is the West Brom crew’s first chance to take in Indian youth football at its youngest.

 

“There’s an abundance of children who want to play, both boys and girls,” Adrian tells me. “We really want to harness that appetite.

 

“One thing that is sincerely lacking, and what we’d like to be able to help with, is to get more places to play, more opportunities to work in association with their schools, to try and get on their curriculum, and that’s something that we’ve got to prove to development people.”

 

 

The basic fundamentals of sport are about much more than making a living, at least for Paul Schuttenbelt, who is the founder of the Delhi Youth League.

 

“I think Indian parents are very restrictive when it comes to sport,” Paul says as the trials go on behind us. “If it’s exam period, nobody’s allowed to go out.

 

“My approach is let them go out for one or two hours, to empty their heads, do something else and go study again, because you’re much fresher. I think Indian parents are too careful with that.”

 

Gareth Conde, an ex-professional in England and an FA coaching licence holder, is currently director at YFI alongside Paul, and he feels cricket has had its day. “If you want to make money out of cricket, you’ve got to be one of the best 11 players in India, and that’s a big country!”

 

There’s less risk if you push them in the direction of football. We’ve got to change the attitudes of parents.”

 

“My whole premise for this is that there are eyes and ears on the ground,” Adrian Wright says. “So if there’s a player that’s believed to be good enough to play in our academy, the first thing that will happen is that a member of our academy team will be on the plane from Birmingham to come and watch the player and see if there’s any opportunity for them coming back and be put on a scholarship.”

 

“We have a very eclectic community in and around the Birmingham region,” Adrian explains. “And West Brom being a club of that region, we just thought there were some natural links with India.

 

“We’ve got people in the UK with links to India that have told us it’s a really amazing thing that we’re doing, that it’s a great idea.

 

“It’s not just football that’s driving this, it’s the brand and the global opportunity as a football club, to try and make a footprint in this country.  The difference is clearly that we want to engage with players, both boys and girls, and hopefully create a legacy so they start to follow us.”

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