IndianFootball.Com Interview: NIRVAN SHAH

As we at IndianFootball.Com criss-cross the country, reporting on various football projects that are targeted at the youth and the children of India, we were pleased to speak with the PIFA (Premier India Football Academy) in Mumbai. In the nations financial capital, where India's richest football club plays in a stadium that is below the AFC standards, it was delight to see some positive work being done. And yet again, it was not some mai-bapp Sarkari program, but private initiative and the love of the game that was instrumental in the formation of PIFA. Nirvan Shah talks about how he has been able to carry on his love of football from his childhood and youth into his adult life and how PIFA is making a difference to the children. It is heartening to see and hear how PIFA is reaching out to the children from various NGO's and PIFA's efforts in this regard are already bearing fruit.

Please tell us about yourself, your love for football, and how the PIFA came about? How is the academy funded and who owns it?

I have done my BTEC in London and run my family business.
I played competitive football in school, college and while studying in England. I currently play at PDP in south Mumbai for the KICKBUTT FC. Both my son's naturally took up football in school.
I was disappointed by the outdated training methods being employed by the local coaches.
PIFA was born as a result of the need of organized and age specific coaching for Indian children. I am fortunate to have a wife that has the same zeal and passion. We share a dream of seeing the Indian flag and hear the Indian national anthem at the World Cup 2022.
The academy is self funded and fully run by my wife Anjali and myself.

How long has the Academy been operating and how many kids have benefited from the various training programs so far on a cumulative basis?

The academy has been running since 2003 and over 1500 children have benefited from the various programs.

What are the annual expenses of the academy and how are the expenses met? How many people work at the academy on a full time and part time basis?

The actual expenses are over Rs. 15 lakhs (Rs. 1,5 Million), the training and camp expenses are met thru participating fees while the skills contests, the Mumbai District FA team and tournaments are paid by my personal contribution.
Anjali & myself are full time. We have 3 office staff that work full time plus 10 coaches work part time basis with the academy. We are looking for some more coaches.

What is the maximum capacity of the academy in terms of students that can be trained at the same time? How many students are being trained right now? Do all students/trainees get the same training or is there a more intensive course for some trainees?

The maximum ratio of coaches to children is 1:16. There are about 300 children being trained at 4 centres in Mumbai. The training is age specific, however if there is an extremely talented child we recommend him to join the older batch and see if he can cope.
Closer to tournaments we do intensive training.

How many locations does the academy have today? Does the academy own the facilities or is it renting them? Are there any plans on establishing new academies in the country or increasing the capacity of the existing academy?

We have four centres currently. All the facilities are rented.
We have plans of opening 3 new centres in Mumbai. Plans are being finalized to open centres all over India in the near future.

Do you have any tie-ups with coaches or institutions from overseas to develop both the coaches that train and the trainees? How do you ensure that the coaches remain at the cutting edge of coaching and training?

We have tie-ups with the Bobby Charlton Soccer & Sports Academy, Manchester; AC Milan Academy, Italy; Rangers Soccer School, Scotland; Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, Brazil; David Beckham Academy, London. Further, I am an English FA qualified coach.
The PIFA coaching program has been designed by combining the best of all the above academy training methods. All coaches have to attend an intensive training program conducted by me and the national camps with foreign coaches for better understanding before they can get an assignment.
We also have refreshers courses from time to time to introduce and update the coaching methods.

Why have you tied up with more than one soccer academy overseas?

We have tied up with only the best academies in the world. Each academy has different style of training and we have incorporated the best of each into our program.

As a trainee what does a child get in terms of training and facilities from your academy?

The coaching is age specific with suitable equipment. The children are taught the correct techniques and methods as per their age. As a trainee the child gets to learn the game & the rules, to understand that it is a team game, to communicate & motivate, to have fun playing/training. This develops the child's confidence and the ability to play better football.
The child gets to participate in tournaments/camps, workshop with famous football players and participate in football related promotions.

What are top five things (or more) that will make a dramatic impact in quality of football in India?

DEVELOP THE CHILDREN
1) All coaches that train children must be qualified/licensed
2) Develop grass-root level coaching academies across the country
3) Standardize the coaching methods thereby enabling children to migrate from school to college to state to country.
4) Schools / Colleges with football as a subject, so that talented players can pursue football while they study.
5) Develop & maintain Football grounds for children
6) Develop AIFF recognized academy in metros for 16+years children.
7) Develop community centres for football

DEVELOP THE PLAYERS
1) Players must be better paid with an upper limit.
2) Players contract & Club transfer fees must be implemented

DEVELOP THE FACILITIES
1) Improve the football pitches and maintain them
2) Tournaments with decent facilities – toilet, first aid, boarding & lodging, etc
3) Organize state & national tournaments for children

PROMOTE FOOTBALL
1. The game needs to be reported and promoted positively by the press and media. Children love to see their names mentioned.
2. We need to develop Indian football legends like Baichung Bhutia to promote the game. Zee TV is doing a great job in telecasting NFL & other football events. Very soon we will have more football idols.
3. More foreign clubs like Bayern Munich, Sao Paulo, AC Milan to play in India.
4. Sponsors are required to fund community clubs & activities.

You have been working with children from various charities and NGO's. Do the children from charities that you work with, show greater hunger when training. Tejas Raut, for example, is he still being coached for bigger and better things?

The hunger to succeed is definitely much higher from the less privileged child. However, the stomach hunger affects the child's development. We need to ensure that they are given a good and healthy diet as well.
Children like Tejas Raut, Ajay Kajania, Rolfred Couthino have been identified through PIFA skills contest. Tejas is being groomed by us just as we groomed Ajay and Rolfred who have now made it to Mahindra United Junior team.

What kind of children come to you. Upper, middle or lower class? And are they serious about being professional football players or is this just a hobby?

Our academy is open to all and has children from all strata's of society. PIFA also volunteers to coach children from various NGO's.
Children take their football seriously whether it is just a hobby or to become professionals. Every single child has made an improvement in his game since they joined the academy.

Do you accept children based on a certain criteria or do you accept children on a first come first served basis?

We accept them on first come basis.

Who have been some of the most famous graduates of the academy so far? Any major awards/tournaments that your academy has won? How do you view Karan Dewan and Kean Lewis not being selected in the recent AIFF U16 call-up?

Nothing has given us greater joy then to see children from the academy being mentioned in the newspaper every single day during the inter-school season.
The academy's biggest success story is undoubtedly been Kean Lewis, he went for trials to Leicester City FC. He was too young for AIFF Nationals under-16 trials. He played for Maharasthra & Mahindra United junior team. He also played for PIFA-CYFC.
Players from the academy were selected to play for the NFL champions Mahindra United junior team. Kean Lewis, Ajay Kajania, Karan Sawhney, Rolfred Couthino to name a few have also played for Maharashtra State.

Karan Dewan played for Delhi state, he is now 19+ and is studying in England, we hope he will pursue football.
PIFA- CYFC team was promoted in the MDFA league from Senior to Super Division in the first year of forming. They were unbeaten in the playoffs.
Harshad Meher (GK) & Ajit Bhoir (Defender) players from PIFA-CYFC have been called for the AIFF Indian team Under-16 trials to be held in February.

Inter School Football Tournament
Campion School won third place in the Div 1 Under-12
Bombay International School won first place in the Div 3 Under-12.
American School of Mumbai won first place in the Div 3 Under- 8
On going tournament
Campion School Div 1 Under-10 has entered the quarterfinal beating Don Bosco High School, Matunga.
Bombay International School Div 1 Under-10 has entered the quarterfinal

Sharad Pawar International School under-16 won first place in the MBIS 5 A-Side tournament in Pune

KICKBUTT FC won Bombay Gymkhana 9 A-Side Main Cup for the 3rd time. The previous year the cup was won by TEAM PIFA. Both the teams was coached & captained by PIFA director Nirvan Shah.

There are lots of students that have performed well in the tournaments and have great potential. The immediate success has convinced us that it will not be long that children from the academy will play for India.

Your team PIFA CYFC got promoted to the MFL Super Division in their first year of formation. What is the average age of the team and how long before you see yourselves in a position to enter the NFL Premier Division?

The average age is 22 years; we have some experienced players that help the juniors such as Harshad & Ajit on the field. We hope to be in the NFL in the next 4-5 years. But for that we need sponsors.

How did PIFA Colaba Youngstar FC come about, especially when the academy is focused on children?

The formation of the team compliments the work we do. It gives an opportunity to serious footballers from the academy to play for the team PIFA-Colaba Youngstar FC is a community project of PIFA. The project aims to keep the talented boys of the street and an opportunity to play in a competitive side. It has enrolled players from the Colaba area of Mumbai to play for the team. The players are paid for every game they play. This is an opportunity for them to be seen and be selected for the city/state/national teams.
PIFA would like to conduct this program in several other centres in Mumbai and would like sponsors to come forward.

Have talent scouts from overseas or from the AIFF or local Indian club teams been in touch with you? How has your experience been with them?

We are in constant touch with the youth development directors and coaches from Rangers FC, Bolton Wanderers FC, Everton FC, Kent FA & Prosporta.
Last year we sent Kean Lewis 13 years to Leicester City FC for trials organised by Prosporta.
Also the winners of the PIFA national & international camps organized with BCSSA are invited to the World Skills Final in Manchester. This is a great opportunity for the winners to show off their skills. In the past the top three children at the finals have been selected to play for clubs. The most famous names being David Beckham and Neel Mellor.
Every camp we take to Europe, the children get to play local matches which are seen by scouts.
Just one player needs to be selected to a European Premier League and there will be a football revolution in India.

What do you think about IndianFootball.Com and its work?

IndianFootball.com has created an awareness about Indian football across the world. The portal showcases Indian talent to the whole world and helps to promote the efforts of academies like us.
Initiatives like the Bayern Munich visit have helped promote football.
Arunava Chaudhuri & IndianFootball.com have always helped & guided us!

Many, many thanks for all your work for the betterment of Indian football over the years and for the time taken to give us this interview!

Thank you for interviewing us, it has motivated us in our quest to reach the ultimate goal –“To see India at the World Cup 2022”. We hope that many like minded people join hands and make this dream come true.

the interview was conducted via eMail by Harmit Singh Kamboe (February, 2007)

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