Exclusive interview of Shirish Kulkarni by ABCDFootball

Shirish Kulkarni talks to ABCDFootball
An Exclusive Interview with Shirish Kulkarni(Centre)-the President of Liverpool International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians by ABCDFootball, In Picture: Shirish Kulkarni in the middle with the Academy Coaches
Yet another Interview conducted by ABCDFootball, and this time its the interview with the President of Liverpool International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians, Shirish Kulkarni. Shirish, who is also a former footballer himself, spoke about the different aspects of Sports in India while also focusing on Indian Football and overall growth of the game in the country. Also, he gave his opinion on the recently concluded ISL and its effect on the game. We also managed to get some insight on the growth of Liverpool International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians. So, lets see how the conversation shaped up between Shirish Kulkarni and Debraj Banerjee of ABCDFootball:

India as a Sporting Nation

ABCDFootball: India in terms of sports is more known for a "Cricket playing nation" rather than a "Sporting Nation". With the recent events like ISL, IHL, Pro-Kabaddi League grabbing the Indian market do you believe the country is in for a change in terms of being a proper "Sports Nation"?

Shirish Kulkarni: India has always been a cricket-centric country with other sports occupying limited “sports-scape”. However, recent developments like the launch of two new IPL-style tournaments – the Hockey India League, the Indian Badminton League show and the Kabaddi League reflect huge potential in terms of talent and business interests.

Football as a sport in India is on the verge of a revamp with the advent of the Indian Super League and the country playing host to the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. The ISL has seen tremendous response from all stakeholders, going on to be immensely successful in its first season. Similarly, the Pro-Kabaddi League created history going on to become India’s second favorite sport and changing the way the game is perceived;debunking the myth that kabaddi is a rural sport.

The proliferation of leagues for different sports in the country has definitely given a boost to existing talent, providing inclusive platforms to a cross section of people including fans, talent and brands from across rural and urban India. A lot of untapped talent is getting an opportunity to showcase their potential. Indian players are being exposed to international standards of the game as they get a chance to play with some of the world’s top and experienced players.However,sustaining the interest in these leagues is now the biggest challenge and to what extent this changes the outlook of people towards sports is something we have to wait and watch.

ABCDFootball: How much change have you seen in the mentality of Indians (especially parents), in terms of adapting football as a profession rather than just passion?

Shirish Kulkarni: While there have always been parents that have encouraged sport as careers, the numbers have grown with the advent of the Leagues. These platforms have provided a very public, national perspective of sport as a viable career option and that too replete with the fame, glory and money that was only thought to belong to the elite class.

Having said that, we still have a way to go but we have noticed first hand, and encouragingly so, at the Liverpool International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians that parents have different reasons to send their kids into this arena. While some of them look at it as a boost to their children’s interest in the game, there are others who believe that a course like this will also help inculcate lifelong values of hard work, determination, teamwork and discipline.

More and more capable youngsters who are opting for football as their career are now receiving support from their parents who are now beginning to see potential in the game and in sports in general. Parents who previously might have burned their life savings trying to get their children into some top flight university are now willing to devote their finances in the game their son or daughter wants to pursue.

ABCDFootball: How much role does infrastructure play in terms of improving overall quality of a particular sport?

Shirish Kulkarni: Sports infrastructure plays a very crucial role in achieving excellence in any sport; it is the backbone of success. It not only helps in producing sportspersons of international repute, but also encourages the youth of a country to participate in sporting activities to create a culture of sports.

With a country of one billion people there is no doubt about potential. However, what is missing is a systematic approach for recognizing the right talent and the required measures to hone that talent.

With leagues having proved that sports can become an important part of India’s economic dynamics, infrastructure has come to play a very important role.We have enormous untapped potential that don’t find support due to the lack of proper training; even accomplished sportspersons are unable to compete at international levels. The government without further delay needs to device a more holistic model of sport infrastructure for excellence at national and international levels.At Liverpool International Football Academy-DSK Shivajians we have focused on infrastructure of international standards in all aspects. This is to ensure that students get a first-hand experience of top class training and facilities which will help them reach their full potential.

In fact, I’d take this one step further and say that the government needs to introduce sports at every level to make it a part of who we are. It’s not one particular game, once it is part of our culture the virtues that sports can bring into the development of a human being are unparalleled.

Football (in general):

ABCDFootball: India has been termed as the sleeping giants of World Football. When will it wake up? What are the factors that are affecting its growth?

Shirish Kulkarni: Indian football still has a long way to go before it emerges as one of the superpowers in the global football map. It has the potential; however what is required is re-looking at all the elements that go into making any sport a success.

Some of the pressing issues that are hindering the growth of football in India are lack of a long-term grassroots plan, experienced coaches, financial investment etc. to name a few. In a country of more than one billion people, there is no dearth of football talent. However, what’s missing is the right approach to tap and nurture this talent. In this case the development of infrastructure backed by training, imparted by experienced top notch national and international coaches becomes the need of the hour.

Academies like LFC International Football Academy-DSK Shivajians and the likes are helping Indian football make headway in a new direction. Also with the advent of other initiatives like the Indian Super League and the country hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017, the sport is on the verge of a revamp. This definitely has created a lot of positive buzz around football.

Sports as business:

ABCDFootball: We have seen foreign clubs taking initiatives of making their mark in Indian soil by building football academies and hosting clinics time and again. Do you believe that it has a good effect on the overall development of the game or it is only beneficial for their marketing?

Shirish Kulkarni: We are seeing a lot of EPL clubs make their entry into the Indian market either by conducting short clinics or getting into long term partnerships with local organizations here. India has a huge fan base for the EPL clubs and when they get a chance to be a part of the training programs conducted by these clubs they don’t want to miss out on that.

Indian football certainly needs grassroots development as the prime focus. Getting into partnerships with foreign clubs helps bring the experience and expertise, that is lacking in India.

We recently entered into a partnership with top flight English Premier League club Liverpool FC to form India’s first full time residential Academy – Liverpool FC International Football Academy-DSK Shivajians. The main objective of the Academy that is based at DSK Dream City, Pune Maharashtra is to provide an excellent platform to aspiring talented footballers; train them under the direct supervision of two professional coaches from Liverpool FC who are available throughout the year.

Establishing more such partnerships will help facilitate overall Indian talent development by experts, so that players graduating from such academies can go on to represent India on international fields.  

ABCDFootball: Is Indian Sports fully capable of being a complete package for business?

Shirish Kulkarni: In recent years, India has been hosting a large number of international events. From organizing major sporting events like the Commonwealth Games 2010, Cricket World Cup 2011 to leagues of different sports, India has shown active participation in all. More such events will drive sports tourism and give India the association with international sports other than cricket.

Let’s not forget that IPL, one of the pioneers of the sports leagues was made in India – it caught the world’s attention and the business it continues to do needs no further explanation. There is no reason why we cannot duplicate that success – all we need is full scale participation of business minds, sportsmen and of course enthusiasts, without who you don’t really have a sport at all!

Regarding recently concluded Indian Super League(ISL):

ABCDFootball: The Indian Super League (ISL) has just completed its first season; what are the pros and cons you can chalk out from the 3 month long tournament?

Shirish Kulkarni: ISL has definitely created a positive impact for football across the country. The coverage from Star across its platforms has helped in bringing new spectators to the sport.
Shirish talks about ISL
Shirish Kulkarni talks about the effect of ISL
on Indian Football

On the field, the sport in itself has benefited from the experience and technical know-how of the international coaches, support staff and players. It was also a big opportunity for the Indian players to showcase their talent, exposing them to over 50 countries across the world.

Hopefully, the ISL will have a positive impact on youngsters taking up the game and, ideally, should lead to growth of football at the grassroots level.

About the Academy:

ABCDFootball: Since the opening of Liverpool FC International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians, what are the notable positives you have witnessed in the first batch of 64 youngsters?

Shirish Kulkarni: There has been a massive interest in the Liverpool International Football Academy – DSK Shivajians right from its initiation. The six city scouting tour saw more than 3000 participants, out of whom, 64 were selected to form the first batch of the state-of-the-art Academy in India.

The standard, ability and quality of the talent is quite good and possesses a lot of potential. The players have a fantastic attitude. They are committed, both on and off the field, to succeed in football and overall, become better human beings. One of the most important aspects of their development is the belief that they have in their own abilities.

Their daily progress and development has been excellent. They have challenged themselves on the pitch, almost every day that they have been at the Academy, and have come out on top.

Shirish Kulkarni Interview with ABCDFootball
A snap of the Gymnasium of Liverpool International
Football Academy-DSK Shivajians
ABCDFootball: Being the first International Residential Academy in India, what are the points in which LFC International Football Academy - DSK Shivajians are looking to improve themselves?

Shirish Kulkarni: The aim of the Academy is to provide Indian talent with a platform to showcase their skills and to perform to the best of their abilities. The Liverpool International Football Academy – DSK Shivajians targets to develop the player, not only on the field, but off it as well.

To become a professional footballer, one needs to be disciplined. We ensure that our players are disciplined individuals both on and off the field through various activities which also make them feel involved in the proceedings.

The players’ technique is of utmost importance and we aim to improve the same on the field on a daily basis through a selection of drills, both with and without the ball.

The facilities on offer at the Liverpool International Football Academy – DSK Shivajians are one-of-a-kind in the country. The 4G turf, along with accommodation, gym, swimming pool and more, are all state-of-the-art. All of this enables us to improve the long term future and development of all the players the ‘Liverpool Way’.

We make sure that the program implemented at the Academy is the same which is used to develop talent back at the Liverpool FC Academy in Kirkby. Hopefully, in years to come, we will be able to replicate the success of the same as well.

ABCDFootball really appreciates the time given by Shirish Kulkarni from his busy schedule to provide such detailed answers of the questions we put forward. We hope that Liverpool FC International Football Academy-DSK Shivajians continues its journey in the right track and become a key supplier of talented footballers in the country.

Hope you all enjoyed this edition of the interview. We encourage you to leave your valuable feedback in the comment section because feedback makes us understand you better and in-turn helps us improve our own quality.
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About Debraj Banerjee

Hi, I am Debraj Banerjee from Adra, West Bengal. A keen follower of Indian football and always an optimist that the game will get the recognition it truely deserves. What we ask from you is your support and one day the dream might turn true. Fingers crossed for Indian football. Cheers!

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