FOOTBALL The Ozone Football Academy aims at making India a global powerhouse in the game

Focus on youth football blends with the concept of grass-root level development floated by S. Vasudevan, CMD, Ozone Group, which gave birth to the Ozone Football Academy almost three years ago. Two boys from this Academy are set to venture into greener pastures after having been selected to play club football overseas.

Vasudevan grew up watching football at the Football Stadium and RSI grounds. The early initiation, thanks to his father, turned into interest and now a passion. Vasudevan conceived a programme to develop and nurture talent in the eight to 12-year-old category from Bangalore.

“There is no dearth of talent. Most of them did not get an opportunity to showcase this talent. The academy provides them with the add-ons: nourishment, kitting and health check-ups, to make them a complete player and also offer them exposure overseas.” Ozone Group has been sponsoring the KSHA Super Division hockey league for about four years now. “We have adapted the German and Dutch methodology. The boys are comfortable with the training module,” says Vasudevan. There is constant monitoring and the performances are gauged accordingly. “Those boys who do well consistently are picked to play at a higher level, which improves their skills,” he says.

As part of the World Coaches initiative, KNVB, a leading football club from the Netherlands has been chipping in with the coaching staff and training updates and even hosts trips for the players. “We have selected two boys — Satish (15 1/2 years) and Ajay Alex (13 1/2 years) to travel to Netherlands and play in the youth league there,” said Bert Zuurman, one of the coaches. “India is a country where cricket and hockey is given more importance whereas back in Netherlands we are born with football as the main diet. We are a country of about 40 lakh people and have lots of playing fields. In India, I have not seen more than a dozen grounds,” says Bert.

“More pitches, more coaches and more youth leagues should be introduced. That is the only way India can produce players of class,” says Bert adding: “Getting foreign players to play in the I-League and the yet to be formulated football league (expected to kick off from January 2014) does not produce players. The concentration for the Federation and the State Associations should be on the youth development programmes.”

Bert is being assisted in his training stints by Audhip Bhandary, Alex Praveen and Christopher Mendis. “The Academy boys come from all strata of the society, though most of them are under-privileged. And the academy takes care of all their needs,” said Audhip, who has been with the Academy since its inception in October 2010. Vasudevan is impressed with the programme. “I gave five years for the results but in three years, we have two boys waiting to fly abroad and make a mark. Let them rub shoulders with the European players and one day in their pink of their career, come back to don national colours. That would be the perfect fulfilment of my dreams,” he said. “The Ozone Group also plans to convert a part of its land in Whitefield into a full-fledged residential academy and give a uniform approach to the overall development of the child,” signs off Vasudevan.