Prashanth Alva and Jyothsna Shetty in Bengaluru are among those who did not baulk at the stiff price tag when the time came to send their 15-year-old son, Dhruv, to Intersoccer Madrid, an international football academy. “Of course, it’s a big risk and we have had to take some loans.
If you have that kind of kid in your family, you should probably go the extra mile to encourage them,” says the soft-spoken, bespectacled Alva, director of a technology firm. The IIT alumnus says growing up, he played a lot of sport in his colony in a town on the West Bengal-Bihar border, but never very seriously. “When Dhruv was here, he showed us he could spend five hours a day on football and still do very well in his studies. We thought we should give him this opportunity,” says Shetty, vice-president at a US-headquartered payment systems firm.
In Mumbai, so convinced is Raja S Rao about this trend gathering pace that he has quit his job in retail banking to set up a consultancy for parents seeking high-level football training abroad for their children
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I usually suggest they start with shorter camps abroad and then take a decision,” he says. For Rao, the professional is personal: his only child, Rishon, is currently at the Fundacion Marcet, a football academy in Barcelona. “We wanted him to pursue a path he loved, not something he was pushed into,” says Rao, whose own father, a public sector bank employee, arm-twisted him to take up a career he had never been keen on.
But Dhruv had a real affinity for sports from the very beginning
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Nor is this trend confined to the metropolises. In Coimbatore, surgical oncologist Dr M Vimalakannan is exploring how to send his 16-year-old son to Europe for football. “My aim is not to make him a football star or anything. Whether he wants to be a full-time footballer or coach or anything else is up to him,” says Vimalakannan, who rationalises that he would have had to spend a similar amount for a medical or engineering degree in India.
While the children train in the hope of getting selected to play for a European club one day, other options include taking up coaching, sports management or getting admission at US universities with football scholarships and playing major league soccer. “We joke that the last resort would be to play for China, which is investing heavily in football,” says Alva.
Sunanda Das, who runs the Indian franchise of Boca Juniors Football School in Bengaluru, says he has seen a big shift in parents’ mindsets when it comes to investing in such classes. “I usually see two kinds of parents: one, who do not want to have any regret later and the other, who are convinced of their children’s potential.” Das and his team currently train close to 500 students across 12 centres in the city, with 80 in the elite programme. While the standard programme costs Rs 4,800 a month, the 11-month elite programme, if you qualify for it, would be around Rs 1.5 lakh.