Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Churchill Alemao: The Big Brother of Indian Football

By John Cheeran

When Churchill Brothers won the Federation Cup for the first time in 
the club’s history, you could not miss the big brother’s presence.
Churchill Alemao (62), the owner of the club, stepped on to the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi on Saturday night, immediately after the final whistle blew, with a few acolytes in tow holding aloft the club’s red and white flag. Clad in a pathan suit and bathed in floodlights, Alemao stood taller than his six feet. He is unmistakably the don of Indian football. Mobbed by the sparsely crowd that entered the turf, and taking non-stop congratulatory phone calls, there was no mistaking who was the man of the moment. It was not the goal scorers – Balwant Singh, Alesh Swant and Abdel Hamid Shabana—in a 3-1 win over Sporting Clube de Goa, or the coach. It was all about
owner’s pride.

Alemao attributes Churchill Brothers’ Federation Cup victory to divine 
intervention. When asked what led to the transformation of the team which is lying at the bottom of the I-League standings, he flashed a paper icon of the Jesus Christ from his pocket and said “It is God’s work.” Within seconds, he picked another card from his pocket bearing
the image of Velankanni Matha (Our Lady of Health Velankanni) and added that prayers to her always bring good results.

Alemao is a fascinating man. A former chief minister of Goa and a 
former Congress MP from South Goa, he knows how to run the show. And take on his opponents. Right now, he is on a collision course with the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Alemao is against the proposed Indian Super League, a two-month event that IMG-Reliance, AIFF’s
marketing partner, is trying to put together. “ISL will kill Indian football. Over the last 30 years, I have spent more than Rs 300 crore on my team. What has AIFF done for Indian football? Now they want us to pay for franchise rights in the proposed league. It is
preposterous,” says a man who quite clearly relishes the winning moment.

Alemao’s daughter -- Valanka Alemao -- is the club’s CEO. She too is 
delighted with the team’s turnaround in Federation Cup. But Valanka, too, is against the ISL.

Churchill Brothers’ victory, however, brings many contradictions in 
Indian football together. It is the first Federation Cup victory for the club who are the reigning I-League champions. Currently, in the 13-team I-League at the half way stage, they are at the bottom place with two wins and 10 points. And now the laggards have created history
in Indian football by becoming the first club to lift Federation Cup by winning all their matches--five.

Alemao has a habit of taking snap decisions and firing his coaches in 
the past for poor performances but he has somehow kept faith in the local Goan boy, Mariano Dias, who guided the side to the I-League triumph in 2012-13, with advice coming in from technical director and former Indian team coach Subash Bhowmick.

With clamour for more professionalism gaining ground in Indian 
football, it is ironic that a feudal club such as Churchill Brothers have outgunned their much fancied rivals such as Bengaluru FC, backed by the JSW group, and Pune FC, floated by the Piramal Group. Both the clubs have foreign coaches – Bengaluru has Ashely Westwood from England and Pune has the Dutch Mike Snoei and a 10-member support staff to look after every aspect of the game. But they bowed out in the group stage.

The in-thing in Indian club football is to have at least four foreign 
players in the starting XI, but Churchill could only field two foreigners– Egyptian midfielder Abdul Hamid Shabana and Trinidadian striker Anthony Wolfe- in Federation Cup not out of choice but due to
late signings. When pointed out about achieving success with a fully loaded Indian side and only two foreign players, Alemao said with a broad grin that he has signed two more, one of them Costa Rican striker Cristian Lagos Navarro. Earlier in the season Alemao had
packed off his two underperforming recruits, Nigerian defender Hamed Adesope and Syrian striker Ahmed Al Kaddour, leaving them handicapped ostensibly on fire power.

Alemao has his own ways of kicking a football around. But you have to 
give to him for sticking with the club through good times and bad times. When Alemao says he has not made any money from investing in the club, you tend to believe him. You almost commiserate with him in his pursuit of vainglory. For, you immediately stumble upon tombstones of dead and disbanded clubs in Indian football—Mahindra United, JCT,
FC Kochin, Viva Kerala, ITI Bangalore, MRF FC, Mafatlals, Premier Tyres, etc.

The easier thing would have been to disband the club and cut the 
losses as many corporates did. Dodsal Group’s Mumbai Tigers are almost defanged and eating grass now. AIFF, which claims to have a mandate for improving standards in Indian football, too disbanded its side, Indian Arrows. That is the rational and the wise thing to do. But
world and football would have been much less round if not for the likes of the Churchill Brothers.

No comments:

John Cheeran at Blogged