Kolkata: India’s football pride reached its zenith when the U-17 national team represented the country at the FIFA World Cup at home in 2017. As the nation lauded the performances of Anwar Ali, Jeakson Singh, Amarjeet Singh Kiyam, Aniket Yadhav and others, many probably didn’t think about the roots these players come from.
India finished at the bottom of Group A behind the likes of USA, Ghana and Colombia. The silver lining for India came against Colombia when Jeakson rose above in the 82nd minute to give Blue Tigers the equaliser. However, India conceded in the next minute to eventually lose the game 2-1 but their performances were etched in the memory of every Indian.
Six of the 23 chosen youngsters came from the Minerva Academy in Delhi. Like Minerva, there are a lot more of these academies that make our favourite stars who they are.
Sportslight Media takes a lot at some of the academies in India.
# Minerva Academy: The academy in Chandigarh has sent the most graduates to the highest ranks. With talents like Anwar, Jeakson, Himangshu Jhangra and Makan Winkle Chote taking national pride, Minerva boasts of producing the most laudable talents in the country.
Founded in 2013 by Ranjit Bajaj, Minerva had been the 2017–18 I-League champions – becoming the first state from North India to win the coveted trophy. The very next year, the academy made history by winning national titles across all age groups.
Although being taken over by RoundGlass in 2020, the Mohali-based academy is still functional and hosts over 200 young talents. Speaking of the insights and visions of the academy, Bajaj once said, “My academy should be a feeder for the Indian national team, which should be able to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2034.”
“We certainly believe that the academy will keep producing talents of the highest level that would help India in achieving their football dreams.”
# JSW Bengaluru FC Academy: 2013 saw the establishment of another AIFF two-star accredited academy, JSW Bengaluru FC Academy. Over the years a lot of academy products have risen through the ranks of the prestigious Bengaluru FC. With current FC Bengaluru United coach Richard Hood as the head, the academy facilitated the evolvement of players like Emanuel Lalchhanchhuaha, Damaitphang Lyngdoh, Leon Augustine, Parag Shrivas. Hood, the Blues boss Naushad Moosa, Sachin Badhade are some of the eminent coaches still working behind the scenes nurturing the talents.
# Shillong Lajong Academy: Over the years some of the most prominent players for the national team have come from the northeastern region. The 2007-founded Shillong Lajong Academy has been the home of extensive grassroots development and has provided a base to a lot of stars like Bipin Singh, Redeem Tlang, Chinglensana Singh, Phrangki Buam, Isaac Vanmalsawma.
The heroics of former head coach Thangboi Singto along with AFC ‘C’ licensed coach Alison Kharsyntiew and U-15 coach Bobby Nongbet, saw the academy achieve success across all age groups domestically as well as internationally. The academy players have plied their stint in the U-15 Manchester United Premier Cup along with Inter Milan Youth Tournament and Bayern Munich Youth Cup.
# TATA Football Academy (TFA): Being the oldest football academy, the TATA Football Academy has been the biggest powerhouse of Indian football for over the years. Veteran stars like Renedy Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Mahesh Gawli, Clifford Miranda, Subrata Paul have all made their way through the ranks of TFA.
Meanwhile, Sandip Mandi, Hitesh Sharma, Vinit Rai are three of 28 players currently plying their trade in the ISL. Jamshedpur FC came into existence after TATA Steel got their trade in the Indian Super League in 2017.
Along with that the Carlos Santamarina coached academy even collaborated with Atlético Madrid in 2018 to facilitate the grassroots development in India. In 2019, TFA received four-star accreditation from AIFF, as the organizations promised to deliver more prominent talents over the years.
# Reliance Foundation Young Champions (RFYC): One of the newest academies, RFYC was founded in 2015 in Navi Mumbai. Primarily formed with a vision of producing next-gen talent, RFYC now holds 65 students being coached by former Indian midfielder Arata Izumi. Talents like Muhammed Nemil, Huidrom Thoi Singh, Muhammed Basith PT who have already been roped in by various ISL sides, hailed from the academy.
In 2019 the academy won the Vedanta Cup in Goa, edging past Bengaluru FC and TFA. The side had also featured in the U-15 Next Gen Mumbai Cup which included youth teams from Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton.
As Indian football continues to achieve new moments of glory, the contributions of these academies would never go unnoticed as their products take on the highest levels of success.