To give exposure to young talents, Airtel, in association with top English football club Manchester United, launched the ‘Airtel Rising Stars,’ here on Tuesday.

Starting mid-July, the three-month long talent hunt is expected to involve 9,500 under-16 players. The programme will be held in 16 cities across India. Besides, it will also be conducted in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Twelve footballers, picked through a series of screening sessions, will be sent to Manchester United headquarters in Old Trafford, England, for a week-long training stint. Finally, three players will be chosen and given support to enhance their skills further.

Former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke said this was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the youngsters and they should cash in on this for the next five years.

“I was fortunate that Aston Villa came to the Caribbean and I got the opportunity. Likewise, Manchester United has given the opportunity to the kids,” said Yorke, representing Manchester United.

World of good

Sharing his experience, Indian striker Sunil Chhetri said the exposure would do a world of good to the confidence of the youngsters.

“When I went to Coventry (to attend a trial), I had no clue as to what was happening. I was shocked when I went there. The tackles and pace were different. Through this programme, a 15 year-old will have a feel of what is happening in the world.”

Yorke, a self-confessed cricket fan and a close friend of fellow West Indian Brian Lara, said this initiative would boost football in a cricket-following country like India.

“To see India play in the football World Cup will be a dream. This initiative is a start. I hope the Government and the federation catch on to it.”

Yorke said the experience of seeing the facilities at the Manchester United and training there with top coaches would give a 15-year-old “an insight.”

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