Trust a billionaire to go after the jugular when it comes to make long-term financial investments.
Chelsea are now boosting their involvement in grassroots development of football in Asia with China and India top of their list.
Spurred by chief executive Peter Kenyon, the side in 2006 became the first major team to sign a agreement with the Asian Football Confederation, as Official Football Development Partner of the AFC’s Vision China project.
So far Chelsea has helped launch four of a planned 10 city leagues in the world’s most populous country, including in Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing and Qingdao. Another is due to be launched soon in Zibo.
They are also the exclusive football club partner of a grassroots talent search in southern China.
The Super Soccer Star television show is being broadcast this month in Guangzhou province, with four finalists visiting Chelsea’s London Academy as well as Stamford Bridge this summer.
It follows Chelsea hosting the Chinese Olympic team for two weeks last year. To cement their brand name, the club opens its summer tour this year in Guangzhou in July — the first time it has played in China.
Chelsea’s involvement — the first club to engage the AFC about long-term objectives rather than jet in-and-out on money-spinning tours — is part of Kenyon’s plan to make it the world’s most recognizable football brand.
It started with a huge shirt sponsorship deal with South Korean conglomerate Samsung in 2005.
And now it could expand into India, with preliminary discussions already held with the All India Football Federeation, exploring ways of working together.
“Three years back these (Chinese leagues) were just plans but now these are full fledged leagues,” said Kenyon.
“It is remarkable that the leagues are in such a (good) position now. The AFC has the passion and commitment to make this happen and this is what spurred me into talking how we can extend our partnership to India too.
“Our credentials are well known in the area of grassroots development and if we can find a way of working together in India as well, there is a real opportunity of making Vision India come true as partners.”
Under the Indian program, Chelsea could be involved in developmental projects in Manipur, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where the AFC’s Vision India project has already been launched.
It is also likely to send instructors to India for coaching young footballers at the school level, and hold workshops for clubs on all aspects of the game, including dealing with the media and the commercial aspects.
“It’s an encouraging development for Indian football,” All India Football Federation general secretary Alberto Colaco told reporters last month.
While China has already enjoyed limited success on the world stage, with several players now plying their trade in Europe, Indian football is still struggling to make its mark in a cricket-mad country.
But there are signs that it is moving in the right direction with AFC president Mohamed bin Hammam making it a priority for development.
“India is top priority for us (the AFC) and we will invest more in improving the game there,” he said late last year.
“Some clubs have a fan following of more than 20 million, in and outside India. That is an indicator to the popularity of the game.”
In January, one of India’s leading business conglomerates, telecom giant Bharti Enterprises, inked a deal with the AIFF aimed at at boosting the game.
The AIFF and Bharti will develop a comprehensive national football development program and work towards setting up a world-class academy.
India and China are two of seven pilot countries in the Vision Asia development project, along with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Oman, and Vietnam.