City Football Group CEO: Fans in India behave like in Europe

Passionate support for teams in the Indian Super League made CFG wake up to the possibility of investing in India, says Ferran Soriano.

Ferran Soriano (right) and FSDL chairperson Nita Ambani and CFG's stake-acquisition announcement in Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: Vijay Bate

Fanfare at Indian Super League matches and local fan-following for teams from particular cities made Manchester City owners wake up to the possibility of investing in a “sleeping giant,” as India was referred to by a former FIFA president (Joseph Blatter).

Ferran Soriano, CEO of the City Football Group, which owns majority stakes in eight clubs spread over the world, including Mumbai City FC, revealed that fan behaviour at matches he attended led to the realisation that football had a following. “I went to games in the stands, sitting like a fan, with the fans. And I felt it. I felt this is the time for football [investment] in India,” he said.

Soriano was talking on the sidelines of CFG’s 65 per cent stake acquired in Mumbai City FC.

'Passion and power'

He said: “There is the passion and the power. Fans watching the game, understanding the game very well. [The fans in Indian stadiums] behave like fans in Europe. There is no doubt that India is soon going to be a footballing nation. The question here is how soon... in 10 years, may be five.”

The ISL is into season six, the I-League is trying to be relevant.

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Manchester City owner CFG chose India as a business investment destination for specific reasons. Soriano elaborated: “We (GFG) have been looking at Indian football and the ISL for 18 months, sending scouts and have a good view of the status of Indian football. The most obvious thing [about India] is the size of the country. The second thing is that we were not serious [about investing in India] till we visited.”

He said: “Our transactions with [Mumbai City FC] were secret till [the announcement] and our CEO is moving here shortly. What we are asking him is to learn, get to know people and in two or three months, we will have a plan for the next season, and long-term plan for the next decade.”

'Fantastic city'

The decision to choose a Mumbai-based club as its entry point makes sense as Mumbai is the nation’s financial capital.

CFG has, however, a different viewpoint. “Mumbai is a fantastic city, this is a cosmopolitan city and many cultures. I feel as if I am in New York. We were very successful in New York, started six years ago with nothing. I am 100 per cent sure about doing well here,” said the Spaniard.

Passionate support

In some cities, Indian fans pack the stands in stadiums and inspire players on the pitch. Kerala Blasters FC (Kochi), FC Goa (Margao), North East United FC (Guwahati), ATK (Kolkata) and Bengaluru FC (Bengaluru) are known to possess passionate fans. The Blasters supporters in golden yellow especially made an impact during home and away games until two seasons ago, when it boycotted the team's games in protest against its performance.

FC Goa supporters add colour to the home stadium in Margao with music and fervour. North East United fans earned appreciation from foreign professionals over for their passionate support and for making their presence felt in away games. Kolkata is a hotbed for football; local fans bred on East Bengal-Mohun Bagan rivalry found a new team to root for.

Bengaluru developed a local fan base backed by top coaches and top players from the time the corporate club moved from I-League to ISL. Mumbai City FC's move to allocate a section of the Mumbai Football Arena’s seating space for away team fans led to fanfare at games.

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