The end of February saw some good news for Indian football fans, as the Indian Super League and the Premier League renewed their Mutual Cooperation Agreement. This was done on the sidelines of the Next Generation Mumbai Cup, which saw U-14 teams from Manchester United, Chelsea and Southampton travel to Mumbai to play against U-15 sides from Bengaluru FC, FC Goa and the Reliance Foundation.
This partnership, which was first signed six years ago, will allow both leagues to continue working together to share knowledge and expertise in all areas of the game, including talent and youth development, commercial growth, community growth and outreach, and governance and administration. The aim of the agreement is to continue working towards the development and improvement of the football landscape in India, be it in coaching, refereeing or player improvement.
The Next Generation Cup aimed to give the English academy sides new experiences both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, they had to deal with completely different weather and pitch conditions than those they are used to back home, while they were also given the chance to visit local schools and communities to gain a deeper understanding of a different culture. Chelsea’s U-15 side ended up winning the week-long tournament.
Elsewhere, coaches from the three clubs also worked with referees and coaches in Mumbai to enhance their skills, in collaboration with staff from the PGMOL. The idea is to allow these coaches and match officials to take these skills into developing grassroots football in India. The UK Sports Alliance also helped to enhance the activities around the Mumbai Next Generation Cup, with conferences and meetings to improve knowledge sharing across different sports being held.
On the more grown-up side of the pitch, the first legs of the ISL playoffs also took place over the weekend. Chennaiyin FC thrashed FC Goa 4-1, while Bengaluru FC beat ATK 1-0, despite a red card for Nishu Kumar late in the game. Chennaiyin had four different goalscorers, with Lucian Goian, Anirudh Thapa, Eli Sabia and Lallianzuala Chhangte all finding the back of the net. Goian, in particular, has been an inspiring signing since joining the club from Mumbai City FC, marshalling the defence and at the same time scoring a couple of important goals at the other end, such as this one. Chennaiyin’s resurgent form have most of the online betting in India players excited about their prospects and money is being staked on their potential success.
The return legs are scheduled for the forthcoming weekend, where Chennaiyin and Bengaluru are now the away sides. It is a difficult task for FC Goa to overcome their three-goal deficit, despite their formidable home record, but they will be roared on by their faithful fans at the Fatorda in Margao. ATK, on the other hand, are up against one of India’s most consistent sides in Bengaluru FC, and despite being at home and facing a much smaller deficit, may find it difficult to progress to the fina. Nevertheless, they will have an equally fervent fan following to back them at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. The betting odds for these games have FC Goa as favourites at 1.64, with Chennaiyin at 4.57 to win the game, while in the second play-off, ATK are at 2.30 with Bengaluru FC only marginally dearer at 2.87. It will be fascinating to see if either side can overcome their first-leg deficits and make it through to the final.