On football scene, Chandigarh enters elite club of cities

With FC Barcelona, the Spanish football giant and the world's second richest club, trying to get a foothold in Chandigarh by organising a five-day special football coaching camp at the Sector 17 Football Stadium from December 24 to 28, the question arises: is Chandigarh the new football hub of the region? The recent developments and the interest of several football clubs, most notably the La Liga champions, certainly indicate so.

The disbandment of JCT Football Club and the lacklustre performance of footballers from Punjab at the national level has coincided with the surge of Chandigarh football, and that is one of the reasons why apart from Goa, Bengal and the Northeast states, football clubs are showing interest in Chandigarh. The city players won the Under-14 National School Games football tournament just a week ago in Mumbai.

"Over the past few years, we have closely followed the growth of football in Chandigarh. The city has a lot of potential and we have seen players from Chandigarh emerging on the national scene. Frankly speaking, Chandigarh was our first destination after Delhi. With the Under-17 World Cup in sight, we want to provide the right platform and scout talented players in the age group of 5-18 for the future of Indian football," says Anu Jain, director of Conscient Football, the official partner of FC Barcelona's training arm, FCB Escola India.

Recently, Bhaichung Bhutia, India's legendary footballer, opened Bhaichung Bhutia Football School in Mohali. Before that, top clubs from Europe — Inter Milan, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Arsenal — organised selection camps here.

But the news of Barcelona showing interest in developing football in Chandigarh is big. FCB Escola, the official football school of FC Barcelona, follows the same successful youth development methodology as La Masia, the youth academy of the club which has produced three-time world footballer of the year, Lionel Messi, and other greats like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, and made the tiki-taka style the new symbol of the beautiful game.

"At Escola, the drill sessions would be the same which the Barcelona first team follows. We follow a fixed criteria. So, the best training is guaranteed to the players and on top of that, if the players do well during the trials in Delhi NCR, then they have a chance to become a part of the FCB Escola squad that represents FC Barcelona in tournaments. Also, we have two coaches from Punjab — G S Parmar and his brother — to assist us. There is a lot of potential here and we, as representatives of FC Barcelona, want to show what we know and what we believe in. There is a long-term programme to teach football to players at the grassroots level," says Antoni Claveria, technical director of FCB Escola India.

After the five-day coaching camp, trials will be held in Chandigarh following which players will undergo a month-long coaching clinic at FCB Escola academy in Delhi NCR. There is an added advantage for players from Chandigarh as they have a chance to impress Antoni and then appear for the final trials without facing the ordeal of pre-trials.

However, the players will have to shell out a hefty sum of Rs 13,600, including the kit and certificate, for the five-day coaching camp. Those belonging to the economically weaker sections can rejoice as the FCB Escola has 10 per cent seats reserved for them and also the women players who appear for the trials.

"Chandigarh has emerged as the new football hub of the region as they have been regularly winning trophies in national tournaments," says Harjinder Singh, coach of Chandigarh Football Academy.

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