They may not be impressed with the grounds here but Barclays Premier League side Reading FC sees a huge potential for football in the country.

While some of the Premier League giants are looking at China to tap the market there, Reading is betting big on India.

And on Friday, Reading and Eagles FC, Kochi’s Second Division I-League team, reached an agreement to work together to boost the sport in this part of the world.

Reading, which has gained a reputation as a top training centre, has decided to establish the Reading-Eagles Football Academy in Kochi.

“We have also decided to exchange players and coaches,” said Shaffi Mather, the Director of Eagles FC, after discussions with the top Reading officials here on Friday evening. “And a potential investment in the club, subject to entry in the I-League.”

If the tie-up works, there could be big rewards for both sides especially in Asia where there is a huge fan following for Premier League clubs and players.

“The presence of South Korean players in the Premier League has the Korean media following them closely,” said Christopher Samuelson, Director, Reading. “If there is a player in India who has the potential to play in the Premier League, we would like to train him at our academy.”

New partnership

One of the big goals in the new partnership between the two clubs is have an BPL player from Kerala by 2018, a year after the 2017 FIFA Youth World Cup.

A grassroots-level development programme starting at eight years, sharing of management and leadership expertise in football club management, advice on development of infrastructure, including club facilities and stadium and creation of fan base for Reading and Eagles in Kerala and the Middle East are some of the other areas the two clubs have decided to work on.

Huge potential

“What Indian football needs is a big push,” said Nigel Howe, the Chief Executive of Reading. We see a huge potential but you need to develop the core strategies. And the I-League needs to be a sound, strong league.”

Playing with the country’s top league should be rewarding for the club and the top television channels should be tapped to generate funds. The I-League should be made so attractive that channels would be fighting to get TV rights, he said.

A couple of months ago, Reading signed an agreement to work together with Turkish giant Galatasaray. The English club also has a tie-up in Arunachal Pradesh to develop football.

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