IFTWC visited the facilities of Sreenidi Deccan Football Club who have entered their third season in I-League
“Our focus is our process,” said head coach Carlos Vaz Pinto when talking about the missed chances from the last season. In their second season in the I-League, Sreenidi Deccan kept up with Punjab FC in the title race but slipped up in the death.
“Noise erupted from five different rooms at our place when Sudeva equalised in the last minute against Punjab (February 5),” said a club official as he took us to the Sreenidhi International School. “We were in the title race with Punjab and each result mattered.” Before that game, Punjab had dropped points against Kenkre FC, another team that got relegated. Sreenidi had started gaining control as they also defeated their top competitors 4-0 at home.
Ultimately, Sreenidi fell ten points short to the eventual champions. “Last season, there were three teams – Gokulam, Punjab, and Sreenidi, who deserved promotions. But rules are rules. Only one of us could go through,” reflected Carlos on the bygone season. Speaking of which, there came a point where we asked about the defence letting down the team as if we look at the top three, the team had conceded almost as many goals as the other two teams combined. “My defenders weren’t the problem. I see my team defending as a structural whole. We sold three defenders to ISL clubs so we can’t say we had bad defenders.”
Sreenidi Deccan slipped up in the last four games while Punjab FC cruised on a perfect 12-point run, the Deccan side could only win 2 points. One of the officials reflected: “Champions don’t concede six goals away when in title contention,” which is fair enough.
We arrived at the Sreenidhi International School at roughly 9 AM, had our breakfast and then we left for the Deccan Arena. All the facilities, i.e, the stadium, the school, the office, and the training grounds are within walking distances of each other. The interaction with the coach was in the afternoon, after the training session.
The previous night, however, it took us an hour to reach the Sreenidhi Guest House, where many of the members reside. The room which I stayed back in was previously occupied by one of the assistant coaches. To be honest, the room was majestic.
The remoteness of the stadium is one of the major reasons why the club has failed to fill the stands. To add to that the road connecting it is so narrow that the away team bus has to be split in two.
Though these problems are considered the biggest, the marketing of the identity hasn’t been top notch either. “You always need that extra push in marketing to be big,” one of the lines from our conversations with an official during breakfast. The club has all these facilities but feels itself rotting at the outskirts of the city. However, over 700-800 kids came for the most recent trials. Having their own training ground facilities alone helps them save around 25 Lakh INR per season. As on an average, the authorities charge 1-2 Lakh INR per home game.
By now, we had explored most of the facilities. While there was a meeting with match organizers, I took a tour of the stadium and the training ground behind it. Four new floodlights were installed as mandated to them by AIFF. The new roof wasn’t on the camera because that’s where the broadcast cameras were fixated. It’s opposite to the previous season. The ground behind the stadium is for the second team. The first team training ground is adjacent to the office. While I was strolling around (with a stray ball), I noticed the heat waves coming out of the astroturf. Later on, I came to know about the psychological benefit it gives the home team over the visiting teams. Although not as humid as Chennai, Hyderabad is a hot city this time of the year. Apparently, the away team doesn’t like the site of heat waves coming out of the turf. Accommodated to the conditions, the home players do well in comparison to away players. Sreenidi went unbeaten at the Deccan Arena last season.
What the club boasts the most about is their facilities. Fair enough actually. A lot of ISL clubs don’t have what they have. Investment in it and youth is what they prioritise in their quest for sustainability. Curiously enough, I asked Fabio Ferreira, Technical Director of Sreenidi Deccan, about the percentage that goes into the facilities and youth development. “If we are talking about the teams alone (first and youth), we spend 30-35% of the allocated budget on the youth teams. That’s a pretty huge amount,” he replied.
Game day, the sun wasn’t out. A VIP access car came to pick us up at 3 PM for the 4:30 PM kickoff. Though the opposite-to-the-camera-stand had to be filled first, the roof side was filled first with school and local kids. Professional drummers were invited to make up the ambience for the big day. Each time the home team gained attack, drums would erupt. Looking at the result, one shouldn’t wrongly guess the vibe.
Deccan Arena is an intimate stadium. You can actually bonk someone while they are taking a throw-in (don’t). While these are highly appreciated by the fans, one time a clearance actually put the owner’s lounge in danger. A few fans invaded the pitch after captain David Castañeda scored the third for Sreenidi.
Announcement of Benfica Partnership
The entire procedure was a buildup to the partnership announcement with Benfica which the club was to do after the game. There were Benfica officials over, alongwith with AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey and TFA General Secretary GP Palguna.
Sreenidi already have a Benfica member over and have appointed them as the Head of Youth Development. The byline of the partnership is ‘using Benfica’s methodology to develop athletes from age 6-18’.
After the conference, we caught up with the players while they were waiting for the bus. Ecstatic with the result, they already had their focus shifted to their next game. They will be facing debutants Inter Kashi on Friday. Their first away trip is to Shillong in Round 4. Till then, they have the perfect momentum at home to gain early positions.