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Building a billion dreams

Building a billion dreams
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With the aim of uplifting grassroots football in India, Manchester United has launched a new initiative – United We Play. The program, to be held in May will give young footballers a one of a kind opportunity to train with Manchester United's U-18 squad

In the Indian context, grassroots football is often neglected. With a population of 1.3 billion, it is indeed surprising not to produce a football team that could make an impact on the world stage. Iceland on the other hand with a population of 3 lakh approximately, has more coaches than India. The response from franchise-based football alongside the hosting of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 has been overwhelming – only to show that we are still the 'sleeping giant of world football' that would need a more rigorous effort to be woken up.

But only organising these tournaments doesn't help much. Lack of infrastructure and training facilities are often the blockade of aspiring young footballers. The quest for building a world-class team is only possible when the game is developed at its very roots and players are nurtured at a young age. Though the process would seek patience, that's the ideal way forward.

European powerhouses have set a very high benchmark when it comes to developing grassroots football. Every child from five onwards is counted as a future professional. 13-time Premier League champions, Manchester United along with Apollo Tyres has launched a pan-India initiative to encourage young footballing talents and give them a platform to showcase their skills. The top performers of the programme will get a chance to participate in training sessions with the Manchester United U-18 team that will be on tour in India later this year. The programme will be carried out in five stages:

Coach Development Programme

The programme kicks off with a coach development workshop led by Manchester United Soccer Schools (MUSS) coaches, where local coaches will be trained in the MUSS technical philosophy and selection parameters. The MUSS coaches will conduct a combination of on-ground practical sessions and theoretical sessions as part of the workshop.

National Selection Programme

The local coaches will then go on to deliver the first round of the programme in 8 cities: New Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, Goa, Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai and Bengaluru across 2 age groups, U-13 and U-16, where the best performing 32 players from each city will be shortlisted by them. The selection will be based on the parameters taught to the coaches in Stage 1.

MUSS Selection Trials

MUSS coaches will visit India and put the players shortlisted in Stage 2 through more rigorous selection drills and testing techniques that are a part of the official MUSS curriculum. The players' performance will be judged based on a mixture of technical and psycho-social parameters including teamwork, attitude, defensive qualities, scoring goals, commitment and trying skills. Based on these parameters, the top 32 players from the eight cities will be selected and they will go on to the final stage of the programme.

Training with Manchester United U-18 squad

The top 32 players will congregate in Mumbai and attend two training sessions with the Manchester United U-18 squad during their visit to India in May. They will get the unique first-hand opportunity to experience the training methodologies of the Manchester United Academy that is known for producing some of the best footballing talents in the world, with an Academy graduate starting in almost every first-team match since the last 80 years.

Begins the second season

The first season of the United We Play programme was launched in Mumbai, back in January 2020. The programme reached out to close to 4000 players and their parents through workshops and trials. Unfortunately, due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, on-ground trials of Under-13 and Under-16 footballers could be conducted only in 6 out of 10 planned cities – Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, Mumbai, Guwahati and Kolkata. The top 20 standout players across the six cities will be invited to participate in the second edition of the programme.

'United We Play Masterclass' programme, is launched to provide a platform for young footballing talent. This programme will be conducted digitally and will be led by Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS) coaches.

This digital programme, for footballers under the age of 16, will include an interactive training session and an informative session for each player. The interactive training session, which will open the doors for a limited 60 players in each of its four sessions, will weigh on the physical and technical development of the players. Two out of the four sessions is being conducted on December 7 (Monday) and December 9 (Wednesday), while the remaining two will be held in January. The informative session will see 300 participants, including parents, over two sessions – one on December 11 (Friday) and one in January, and will focus on the nutritional, psychological and tactical development.

In addition, a webinar will be conducted with players of the Manchester United U-18 team for young players from India, SAARC, and the Middle East to discuss grassroots football. The Digital Masterclass programme was launched through a virtual fan party, where Manchester United legend Denis Irwin interacted with around 200 young footballers and their parents.

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