“While respecting our roots, we must also adapt and stay current. Playing good football alone is not enough, effective communication, a distinct identity, and a unique style both on and off the pitch are essential. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the previous crest, but we felt it was the right time for renewal and rejuvenation.”
Last evening marked the beginning of a new era for Mumbai City FC, as they unveiled a fresh club logo and a revamped identity. City Football Group, the co-owners of the club, also announced the completion of the necessary legal procedures to finalize their share acquisitions.
Undoubtedly, the recent triumphs of Mumbai City FC have been greatly influenced by the arrival of City Group. The partnership has brought forth a bunch of talented players and managers to the club, contributing to the club’s success. Moreover, City Group has infused a newfound sense of professionalism, establishing a clear hierarchy and efficient management within the club.
Nevertheless, while the achievements have primarily been witnessed on the playing field, the club is yet to showcase substantial progress beyond that. Although they boast well-structured youth teams participating in various leagues, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive academic system and better infrastructure. With the involvement of City Football Group, it was anticipated that big and positive changes would be implemented in terms of infrastructure for both the first team and the youth squads but it is yet to happen.
Roel de Vries, the Chief Operating Officer of City Football Group, says, “We haven’t been able to make the desired infrastructure changes yet due to the recent completion of the transfer process. We have already explored some potential locations, but unfortunately, one option that seemed promising didn’t work out. Finding a suitable location in a city like Mumbai is not an easy task. We are currently in discussions with the owners of the stadium.”
“Our vision for Mumbai is to establish it as the top club in India, equipped with excellent facilities for the first team and a top-notch academy for the youth team. We must be realistic as building a training facility requires a large piece of land. Mumbai, being a complex city, poses challenges as players might have to endure long travel times if the location is on the wrong side of the city.”
Since City Group made its mark in the world of football, we have witnessed an intriguing array of clubs in their portfolio, ranging from the illustrious Manchester City to Chinese Second Division side Sichuan Jiuniu. However, the question arises: what criteria does the group employ when selecting a club for investment? The selection of Mumbai City as an investment opportunity among the array of renowned and historic clubs currently in Indian Football undeniably stirred curiosity and surprise.
According to Roel de Vries, “Each club within the City Football Group has different objectives and roles. Manchester’s objective is to be the top football club, achieving success in every aspect. There are also clubs that we acquired because they were facing financial troubles or were in lower divisions. Some investments focus solely on developing young players like Belgium.” City Football Group had completed a majority takeover of Belgian Second Division club Lommel SK in 2020 and Italian side Palermo, who where struggling financially, last year.
Vries explains their decision to invest in the future that Indian Football promises, “Our investments in India are part of a long-term, strategic vision. We aim to become the biggest and best football organization globally. We recognize certain markets, such as China and India, as having tremendous potential for significant growth in the sport. It is advantageous to enter these markets early and contribute to the development of football within the country.”
Recognizing the vast possibilities within India, the subsequent step involved the selection of a football club for investment.
“Mumbai shares similarities with New York. Mumbai is a bustling city with a strong presence of businesses, young players, and passionate fans and it aligns with our strategic portfolio.”
Entering the Indian football landscape is however no simple feat, as it is intertwined with numerous twists and turns, scattered across a vast landscape. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that navigating the intricate web of players, clubs, and management in India poses significant challenges at present even for an institution as big as City Group.
Vries shares the same view with regards to the Indian Football ecosystem, but the Dutchman is optimistic, “It is a bit chaotic here because of their relative youth in terms of developing the sport. As part of our role in the Indian market, our purpose extends beyond competing and winning. We are here because we want to foster the growth of the sport in the country. Admittedly, it’s not always easy due to the inherent politics where everyone strives to outperform the others.”
Similar to the devotees of Indian Football, Roel possesses a profound understanding of the essential elements required for Indian Football to gain worldwide renown and respect.
“We recognize the need for increased revenue. Only with enhanced financial resources can we attract better players. As we acquire better players, we can further invest in our academy system. This investment leads to the development of our own young talents. It’s a cycle where everything is interconnected. By improving the quality of players and nurturing local talent, we naturally attract a larger audience. With a larger audience, broadcasting opportunities expand. It’s all about creating momentum within the sport.”
One of the initial measures crucial to enhancing the financial robustness of the clubs involves the equitable distribution of broadcasting earnings, among various other factors. Nonetheless, considering the prevalent issue of clubs operating under deficits, it becomes clear that there are a lot of additional hurdles which must be confronted and overcome on this path to sustainable success.
“Discussions are underway for a new broadcasting deal, although it won’t be the final solution. It will serve as a stepping stone,” Roel says.
One significant hurdle Indian Football has been facing is the immense popularity of cricket. However, rather than pitting cricket against football in the conventional manner, it is essential to find a harmonious coexistence between these sports, according to de Vries. The rivalry between them does little to foster progress, especially considering the current state of Indian football. It is imperative that football expands its reach to encompass cricket enthusiasts too.
“We understand the challenges of competing with cricket, which is deeply ingrained in the culture of older generations. However, younger generations, exhibit a different affinity as they actively play and enjoy football. They also follow other international football leagues. In the past, access to such diverse football content was limited, unlike today when one can easily watch football from all over the world.”
“I believe cricket can go together because people have a deep love for sports. There are many similarities among sports: supporting your team, knowing the players, and experiencing the excitement of watching games with friends. In India, cricket has dominated due to its historical significance. Interestingly, cricket and football are not as different as people might think. If someone influential in cricket starts talking about football, many people might be intrigued and wonder why they like it.”
Despite the multitude of obstacles and tumultuous circumstances, Indian Football perseveres in attracting big names and brands like City Group. Despite the odds stacked against it, there is an allure that makes people want to come in here and invest their time and skills into Indian Football.
“The size of the market here in India, along with the significant participation of young players in Indian football, is noteworthy. The ISL is well organized, and this sets it apart. The domestic market is sizable, and there is a strong presence of grassroots football, particularly among young children. The ISL benefits from a professional and well-structured organization supporting it. Overall, India’s football scene is relatively well-organized, albeit smaller compared to cricket, and this is a positive aspect that we appreciate.”
In spite of Mumbai’s recent triumphs, the surge in fan participation has been considerable, yet it has failed to impress for a club of such stature. The challenge of packing stadiums to capacity has persistently plagued Mumbai. Cultivating a devoted fan base is no easy feat, but the City Group has weathered similar situations in the past, with Manchester City.
“We have ambitious goals for Mumbai, including playing in front of a crowd of 50 or 60K passionate fans. However, it’s important to acknowledge that our brand is still relatively small at the moment. We’ve been in the league for 10 years, but faced challenges due to the impact of COVID-19, with short seasons played in a bubble without fans. These circumstances have hindered our growth, but we are determined to work on it.”
“In Manchester, we completely transformed our content strategy, producing a wide range of non-football content. The goal was to allow fans to see the players as relatable individuals, not just football machines. This approach helped create a stronger connection with supporters and build love for the club. We focused on investing heavily in content, recognizing that football is not just a business but a product within the media and entertainment industry.”
“In Mumbai, we recognize the importance of investing in high-quality content to tell the human story behind Mumbai City. Even if we fill the stadium with 15,000 fans, it represents only a small percentage of the broader audience who will experience the club through media outlets. By sharing compelling narratives and highlighting the personalities of our players, we can create a deeper emotional connection with fans and foster love for the club.”
Amidst the myriad of clubs within the City Group eco-system, a sense of intrigue arises among the fans, which is whether we might witness some of these teams touring India at some point of time. Can the treble winning Manchester City of Guardiola, lock horns with the our Mumbai City FC?
Roel de Vries, however, explains, “Typically, Premier League teams are paid to travel to various countries, thanks to the involvement of promoters. It’s important to note that teams cannot undertake these tours on their own; it is a collective decision involving various stakeholders. If there are promoters in India who express interest in bringing Manchester City to the country, we would be more than happy to consider it. The possibility is definitely there, and we are open to exploring it.”
City Group has undoubtedly transformed the football scene in Mumbai, leaving a mark on the city’s sporting landscape with even greater endeavors yet to be witnessed. However, when it comes to comprehending the contrasting eras of Mumbai’s footballing journey pre and post City Group’s arrival, there is no one better equipped than Kandarp Chandra. Chandra has been an integral part of the club since its inception and currently holds the position of CEO at Mumbai City FC.
“It revolves around the experience and expertise brought in by Manchester City and the collective efforts of the 11 clubs within the group. As the youngest member of the group, joining when our league was just few years old and the club itself being around six or seven years old at the time of acquisition, we have received invaluable support and guidance. This support extends to various aspects, including technical matters, corporate affairs, commercial endeavors, and educational opportunities.”
Mumbai City stands as the solitary club representing Mumbai in the first division of Indian football, and their fame surpasses all other clubs in the entire Maharashtra region. With such prominence, it is only natural to anticipate that Mumbai City would extend their influence beyond the city boundaries and establish their presence across the state, aiming to attract a larger fan base.
Chandra shares, “That is indeed our plan. Currently, we are the sole club representing our state, which is a positive development. Our intention is to expand our presence here. We faced two challenging years due to the impact of COVID-19 after the acquisition. Now, as we move forward, we plan to initiate outreach efforts in the coming weeks, reaching out to satellite cities in Maharashtra to promote our new crest and expand our reach beyond the current boundaries.”
With a huge number of talented young footballers emerging from various academies throughout India, coupled with the extensive global influence of City Group, it is expected that some of our stars can make it to their international clubs. Nevertheless, this envisioned progression remains unrealized, even within the ranks of Mumbai City FC itself.
Roel de Vries addresses the hope of Indian football fans, “I believe it will happen. It’s important to recognize that it takes time. Developing talent takes time because we can’t force coaches to select players they don’t believe in. We learned this the hard way when we sent players to European clubs but they received minimal playing time due to different game plans and priorities.“
“It’s a gradual process, and sometimes people underestimate the differences in levels and the challenges of transitioning to professional football. Football is highly competitive, and going from the Mumbai first team to playing in Europe is a significant achievement considering the vast number of players involved. It’s a steep pyramid, but we will do everything we can to provide opportunities for Indian players in a meaningful way.“
“We don’t want to send players just for the sake of it. We want to ensure that their experiences abroad are valuable and that they are welcomed in their new teams. We have seen instances where players were moved too quickly and it had a negative impact on their development.”
With the emergence of high-spending clubs such as Mumbai and Mohun Bagan in the Indian Super League, player salaries have skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, resulting in a rather unfavorable response from netizens. Nonetheless, we now have the opportunity to gain insight from an executive within a football club, who believes that the upward trend in wages is actually beneficial.
“There is a direct correlation between the amount of money invested in players and the overall performance of the team. If we want Indian football to reach higher levels of competition, we will have to offer higher wages to attract and retain top talent.”
“It is crucial to offer young people a viable career in football. While the salaries mentioned may seem high compared to average workers, professional athletes have a limited career span, typically lasting around 7-10 years if they are fortunate and injury-free. They need to make the most of their careers during this period. If we want talented players to come and spend a significant portion of their careers in Mumbai, it is necessary to ensure that they receive competitive salaries.”
“I am not in favor of reducing salaries because it would only result in players leaving as soon as they have an opportunity elsewhere. This trend can be observed in several countries, such as Australia and the United States, where good players often leave due to salary caps or strict regulations.”
“Currently, Mumbai City is in an investment phase, which means we are incurring losses as we strive to build the brand and the league. This requires attracting top-quality players who command the salaries mentioned earlier. While we may not have sufficient revenue at the moment, we firmly believe that this investment in Indian football is worthwhile.”
“We should maintain this perspective because if this belief fades, not just for us but for all ISL clubs, the sport could regress to where it was 10 years ago. In such a scenario, if all the clubs start cutting wages, players will depart, leading to a decline in the overall level of the league. Consequently, young Indian players, who currently benefit from learning from experienced players, would miss out on valuable opportunities, resulting in a decrease in viewership and interest in the sport.”
Roel de Vries also recognizes the formidable task ahead in achieving the delicate equilibrium of break-even within the next couple of years. Attaining a break-even point within the next one to two years presents an arduous challenge, verging on the edge of impossibility, and this reality is not lost on the club, which is well aware of the intricacies involved.
“Breaking even depends on the league itself. In India, it is crucial for us to grow the sport and increase broadcasting revenue. When more people watch football matches, we can attract more sponsors. We are here for the long term. Additionally, our strong presence in India benefits us in another way. Manchester City has a significant business presence in the country, and our knowledge of the market allows us to collaborate with Indian brands and potentially secure sponsorships for Manchester City. Such collaborations can contribute to achieving a break-even scenario, even if Mumbai City FC alone might not reach that point. Our goal is to ensure that the overall venture in India becomes financially sustainable.”
“To accomplish this, we are exploring initiatives such as establishing football schools and organizing various activities to further engage with the community. These efforts aim to contribute towards reaching a break-even point. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the responsibility of making the league profitable doesn’t solely rest on us but on all the ISL owners collectively. It is a shared responsibility, and the league needs to actively work towards making it a financially viable and successful venture for all participating clubs.”
The City Group has excelled in grassroots football across the world among it’s different clubs, whereas Mumbai has a significant amount of ground to cover in terms of improvement and development. In the past year, they have made some strides although work remains in infrastructure and organization which is still not adequate.
According to Roel de Vries, Mumbai are on the right and sustainable path, “We have become much more organized in our setups and training processes. This progress brings us closer to the style of play we aspire to achieve, which was our initial focus.”
“Looking ahead to the next two years, our primary objective will be to ensure that our U-8, U-11, and U-13 teams adopt and play the same style of football. Concurrently, we will dedicate efforts towards enhancing the infrastructure and facilities that support their development. We are continuously learning and drawing inspiration not only from our own club but also from other clubs in the league.”
“While there is still work to be done in terms of infrastructural improvements, we are optimistic about achieving these goals within the next four to five years. However, in terms of other crucial elements such as the quality of play, player well-being, nutrition, and safeguarding, we have made significant strides. Our commitment to providing the best possible environment for our young players remains unwavering.”
With the presence of accomplished individuals like Roel de Vries and Kandarp Chandra in the management team, it is clear that Mumbai City FC is in capable hands. Coupled with their newly unveiled crest, accompanied by a rejuvenated identity, the time has come for Mumbai to take the next big step under the guidance of City Group. Together, they have the potential to achieve unprecedented success and setting new benchmarks in Indian Football.
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