Football - Sevilla & Bengaluru tie-up
Left: Jose Manuel Castro, President of Sevilla FC with Gaurav Manchanda, owner of FC Bengaluru United, during visit of India last week. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Kolkata: The La Liga may see Real Madrid and Barcelona FC swapping top two places at the end of most seasons, but the league is an extremely competitive one and not just about the Big Two, feels a top official of Sevilla FC.

‘‘The two are certainly the biggest clubs, but the league is not just about them as it’s an extremely competitive one. We have won the Europa League six times in last 16 years while a team like Villarreal went all the way to the semi-finals of Uefa Champions League this year. Atletico Madrid has stood out and won the championship - this certainly proves a point,’’ said Jose Manuel Castro, President of Sevilla FC, which finished fourth in the 2021-22 season.

Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive virtual interview on the sidelines of his recent visit to India to renew their tie-up with FC Bengaluru United, the seasoned administrator refused to buy that their league may have lost some of it’s sheen with the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. ‘‘These two have been the biggest footballers of this generation, but Spanish football draws its strength from it’s own football culture and depth of talent. If you look at the performance graph of our club over the last two decades, not only have we won the Europa most number of times but have made around 20 final appearances,’’ said Castro, whose team is currently being coached by Julen Lopetegui.

Castro, along with their General Director Jose Maria Cruz and Business General Director Jorge Paradela, were part of a Sevilla delegation which visited Bengaluru recently to sign a five-year extension of collaboration with FC Bengaluru United, a newcomer in Indian football who currently play in the second tier of I-League in India. The partnership, under the Andalusian club’s plan of diversifying their brand, will see them offer technical expertise in the club’s growth and increase their footprint here - while FC Bengaluru United are expected to benefit in terms of technological innovation, research and development and usage of data in the game.

‘Football Hackathon - Data Driven Players’ Performance Assessment,’ a joint initiative by Sevilla and FC Bengaluru United, was launched in the Garden City last week while a Sevilla FC Junior Cup for younger age group took place at HAL grounds. “Our visit to India has been very fruitful and we’re thankful to all who helped us understand the opportunities we can explore in this beautiful country. One thing that was clear to us over the course of these five days was the passion Indians have for football and we’re more committed than ever before to consolidate and grow the Sevilla brand here,” Castro said.

Copy of 501757-01-02-1598062926721
Fan following: Sevilla FC fans celebrate on the streets of Sevilla after their last Europa League triumph. Image Credit: AFC

Indian football, incidentally, had been no stranger to association with Spanish football brands - the current one being the commercial partnership between Atletico Madrid and Mohun Bagan Club - with ATK Mohun Bagan emerging as a major force in the top flight Indian Super League (ISL). Asked what made them tie up with relative newcomers FC Bengaluru United, Castro zeroed in on two factors: ‘‘We have been a century-old club in Spanish football but some 23 years back, we were playing in the second division. We have managed to reach where we are by doing something right and hence want to back FC Bengaluru in reaching their goal of playing in the top flight and provide the country with quality players.

‘‘The other reason is, of course, the city of Bengaluru which is the epicentre of IT activities in India. We want to collaborate with the club and use their network in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in data analysis on the players. We have IT department back in Sevilla with some 20 people working there.’’

The collaboration, however, will go beyond such data analytics and goodwill visits. ‘‘We will provide them with technical expertise in terms of training of coaches and setting of academy. This is just the beginning,’’ Castro added.

A relation based on trust, mutual respect: Manchanda

Gaurav Manchanda, the young owner of FC Bengaluru United, says that it’s their lo ng term goal of making a mark in Indian football which made them lean heavily on a partnership with Sevilla FC of La Liga.

‘‘We may be a new club founded in 2018, but we wanted to tap on some of the best minds in the business when it comes to training methods, injury prevention etc. The back story of Sevilla FC provided us with a great template for the way they have climbed up the ranks over the last two decades,’’ he said during an interaction with Gulf News.

Manchanda’s club, which took baby steps in 2018 by first becoming local division champions, has recently appointed Khalid Jamil as the head coach of the club and roped in John Kenneth Raj as the assistant. Jamil, who created quite a stir by guiding Aizawl FC to I-League title in 2016-17 and had been there and done that in Indian football circuit, recently said: ‘‘It’s been an exciting few days, working with the management, discussing ideas and plans and the way forward. I am looking forward to the upcoming season and am confident of helping FC Bengaluru United move to the next level of Indian football.’’

Asked if FC Bengaluru United will be using the network of Sevilla FC to acquire players from Spain, Manchanda said that they would rather like to focus on homegrown talent. ‘‘We have had professionals from Spain, Slovenia and Trinidad & Tobago who served us well, but the idea behind the second tier of I-League is to groom Indian players. We look forward to have virtual interactions with Sevilla players while our coaches and members of the academy can visit Spain in future to imbibe the best practice,’’ he added.

- G.B.