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FC Barcelona: Operation Conquer India

will we see Pep in India soon?
will we see Pep in India soon?

It’s one more reason to love F.C Barcelona. That’s all that needs to be said really but I can’t get away that easy. After putting some thought into the recent friendly played in Calcutta and more importantly, Lionel Messi’s visit, I felt the need to try and analyse the implications of that game and the only way I know how to do so is to write, so here goes nothing.

In general, the attitude of big European clubs to India, and Asia in general, is to treat it as a large (extremely large to be honest) untapped market, which is true. I’m not naïve enough to believe Barca is different but I do like how the powers that be introduced the club to India. Poverty, a word that is well known in this part of the world, my country has 1.2 billion people and the growth rate is higher than that of China’s. After a few hundred years of being exploited by the British and Indian politicians, the poor get poorer and rich get richer. Any help (of any kind) is welcome and the general idea is to encourage private organizations (or any organization that isn’t affiliated with the Government) to invest so as to help improve the lifestyle of the downtrodden.

Messi mania grips Kolkata (via newsxlive)

So it gave me great pride when I first read that F.C Barcelona chose to go to a secluded area of India and help. Anantpur, a small town in the state of Andhra Pradesh, is as nondescript as they come. As expected in many rural parts of the country, poverty is rampant and Barca chose to invest in the form of a school using sports as a medium to encourage values and develop talent as well. Joan Laporta, personally visited the country in 2009 and considering the relatively low media coverage that the school received, I concluded that this act of generosity was, just that. It wasn’t meant to be an introduction of the club using charity as the selling point but charity for the sake of it. The club really wanted to help underprivileged children in the best way it knew how, by uplifting them through football. That doesn’t mean that the club was hoping to find talent so that they may find the Indian Messi or Iniesta (although Laporta did say that he hoped one of those children did develop and play for Barca someday). You can see the article here. I’m sure there are many fans of certain clubs (hint!) that are just waiting to jump to the conclusion that Barca isn’t actually ‘more than a club’ but just trying to project that impression. All I can say to those fans is, believe what you will, be as cynical as you want but that doesn’t change the fact that there are a group of children who have the opportunity to get a proper education.

Considering what I’ve seen of the slums in this country, I’ll admit that I root for those children. Maybe someday one of those kids will actually make an impact on the beautiful game and play for the club that I love. Having said that, the club itself has admitted that India is a gold mine waiting to be found. The law of averages says that the chance of finding another Messi is very high considering the sheer mass of our population. The Business point of view: - One should keep in mind that almost seventy percent of the country’s population is below the age of 30 and although most Indians are cricket fans, I assume that is the demographic that the club is looking at. From what I’ve observed, most Indians love sports, period. Football is as good as any if not better and there is a lot of money to be made.

However, there is one major obstacle. The English Premier League is the most watched league in the country and I dare say more popular than the Indian League. Considering that the sport demands loyalty to a club, I don’t see many fans switching to La Liga in the near future at least. The advantage the Blaugrana possess goes by the name of Lionel Messi. Like I’ve mentioned in one of my previous articles, Messi made such an impact in the days leading up to the friendly that many people, who until then didn’t really follow football, chose to spend their hard earned money and watch the game live. Although football, isn’t as popular as cricket (in India), I can only assume that there are many people here who would be willing to follow the game if it involves watching the diminutive Argentine every week.

The other obstacle is the unfavorable match schedules. I stay awake late into the night to watch Barca’s games (I would much rather not) and although the club has put in a request with the league to change the time schedule we will have to wait and see if the league agrees.

For the Catalans to make an impact in India, both problems have to be addressed as soon as possible while the memory of the Argentina friendly is still fresh in our minds and I believe, Sandro Rosell and co. are striking while the iron is hot because if rumours are to be believed, he plans to lead a team to India this month to analyse the local market and how to exploit it.

If I were in a position to give the club a suggestion then this would be it: there is one thing that Indians love just as much as cricket (and maybe more), Bollywood. To the uninitiated, that is the biggest part of the Indian film industry and from what I understand the biggest in the world (with respect to number of films made in a year). We Indians worship our silver screen brethren and it is scary how many people are willing to blindly follow a 20-something year old movie star. Like the Kennedy’s are to the Americans, we have our version of a modern royal family. Ask anybody in the country what the name Kapoor means to them and you will probably be lambasted with their whole damned history. The Kapoor family has been an important part of the film industry since my grandfather’s generation and produce stars like La Masia develops midfielders.

The latest in a long (ggggg) line of Kapoors is Ranbir Kapoor. A self confessed football fanatic, Kapoor jr. was present at Wembley stadium on that historic night when the Blaugrana lifted Ol’ Big Ears, for the fourth time in the club’s history, and for the Argentina friendly as well. If you haven't figured it out by now, I’m not a huge fan of Bollywood but feel free to check out this link at your own risk. My point is if Abishekh Bachan (the Bachans are as blue blooded as the Kapoors) is Chelsea’s Ambassador, it seems Ranbir Kapoor is Barca’s and if it isn’t official, it should be because that would be the easiest and most efficient way to attract Indian fans. Word of caution: The Indian masses generally have a short memory although I think the surname should do the trick. Just to be safe, I would include an extremely beautiful actress as well, say Katrina Kaif?

All in all, I think the club is heading in the right direction. If Rosell devotes his time to study the mindset of the Indian masses and works accordingly, I have no doubt that Barca will find a large and extremely loyal fan base in India. After all, Sachin Tendulkar (commonly referred to as ‘The Little Master’ and God of Cricket) is and will always be more popular than any film star and one can’t help but see similarities between him and that other little master (Lionel Messi). Let’s hope that in the near future F.C Barcelona announces a pre-season match in India (the rumour mills are already working overtime with respect to this). Until then,

Visca el Barca!

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