Dubai: When Lionel Messi’s Argentina played a friendly with Venezuela in Calcutta last September, the match filled a 120,000-capacity stadium. Bhaichung Bhutia’s testimonial against Bayern Munich in New Delhi in January did the same.
India’s thirst for top level football has even led to attempts to get the game to rival cricket for the first time, with Premier League Soccer (PLS) franchises modelling themselves on cricket’s multi-million dollar Indian Premier League (IPL). Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo were just some of the names lined up.
Its’ threat to the regular Indian football league, the I-League, led to its postponement, but the potential of supplementing the current league system with world-class talent hasn’t been forgotten by Dubai-based conglomerate Dodsal Group, who — under owner Rajen Kilachand — formed Dodsal FC in Mumbai in May.
Dodsal made the final of the Durand Cup this month and now aim to break the I-League, via the Mumbai League and division two, within a season, then Asia within five years.
Mikael Silvestre emerged as a shock target this week, but their CEO, former UAE and Al Ain striker Mohammad Omar, a 2003 Asian Champions League and 2007 Gulf Cup winner, is promising many more surprises. Gulf News spoke exclusively to the 35-year-old player-turned-chairman.
Gulf News: Can you elaborate on Dodsal’s negotiations with Mikael Silvestre?
Mohammad Omar: Actually we have three big names. The other two aren’t for print. I’m quite shocked they are interested in coming to Dodsal. We opened conversations with Silvestre, but that will be decided in January in time for the start of the second division. First we have to build our youth and then we can look for big players with experience to help us get to where we want to go. He’s very interested, I talk to him every day. His family are ready to move. But we have to go back to the budget and study a lot of things before the transfer can be completed.
Why has Dodsal invested in Indian football?
We didn’t do it for profit. Dodsal has made a name for itself in business but now we want to do something good for sport. When I went to India and saw their passion for football I was amazed, the crowds and atmosphere — it’s unbelievable. India will be one of the most important locations for football in the future and you will remember my words in three years. I had a plan with the chairman of Dodsal Group [Rajen Kilachand] to start from the beginning and build our own club. I think why not, we can do something.
Does your CV as a footballer help you as a chairman?
I’m the only player to have played at six different clubs in the UAE, I was the first local professional. I know what professionalism is. I also know at a certain age you think differently. I didn’t think about trophies at 32 because I had won everything. I thought about money, this is the professional way. A player won’t come to Dodsal for the history, he will come to make good money. We will treat players like top professionals in seven star facilities.
What’s the target for Dodsal?
To finish top two in the I-League second division and earn promotion to the first division by 2013. Then it’s to reach the highest level in Asia inside five years. It won’t be easy. It’s a matter of a good team, coach, results and luck. When I was with Al Ain I won the Asian Champions League in 2003 and was the top scorer. I know how it is [to be on top of Asia] and I want to go back. So long as there is passion you will succeed and, once I put my hand on something, I don’t go back. You never know, if you get ready financially and make good results, people will come to you, there’s no need to go to them. I get phone calls from different players wanting to join Dodsal and we’re only second division — so don’t be surprised if it’s Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo next.
Were you inspired by Diego Maradona coming to Al Wasl?
Nobody thought you could bring Maradona to Al Wasl, George Weah to Al Jazira or Abedi Pele to Al Ain. Dream and it will happen, but in a better way. When your club is a private company, like ours, it has a commercial engine. Unlike this region, we’ll have more opportunity to utilise star potential. Maradona came here but what did he do for advertising benefits? Zero. I didn’t see one billboard for Maradona or Cannavaro. When you bring Maradona, he’s more than a coach, and you should use him. Phones, watches, whatever, you draw people in.