Hyderabad FC, Borussia Dortmund bond over grassroots football amid pandemic struggles

The Nizams' partnership with Dortmund, which runs till 2022, mainly focuses on youth development and coach education. There's a provision to extend the deal for three more years as well.

Hyderabad FC narrowly missed out on a play-off place in the 2020-21 ISL season.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS

Ever since Hyderabad FC (HFC) announced its two-year tie-up with Bundesliga heavyweight Borussia Dortmund (BVB) in August 2020, the buzz surrounding the Indian Super League (ISL) club increased multifold.

The Nizams' partnership with Dortmund, which runs till 2022, mainly focuses on youth development and coach education. There's a provision to extend the deal for three more years as well.

Coming off a disastrous 2019-20 ISL edition, where the team got the wooden spoon, HFC followed a formula similar to its German partner the following season by bringing several youth players into its setup under head coach Manolo Marquez. It went on to miss the playoffs by a whisker.

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Riding on the high, Hyderabad was keen to capitalise on it. However, the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has halted the team's plans. With travel to and from India not possible, BVB could neither send its contingent to the country to help HFC set up a world-class academy nor train its coaches.

Promotion of youth players into the first team

Despite the struggles due to COVID-19, the two sides are eager to take the relationship to the next level.

"If you look at the history of Borussia Dortmund, you might be aware of the financial crisis that we were hit by during 2005-06. We were not able to buy stars. We had to build them on our own, especially from that time until 2010-11, when the squad was successful under Jurgen Klopp. We focused a lot on young talents at Dortmund and tried turning them into Bundesliga or even international stars," recalled Benedikt Scholz, Head of International Commercial & New Business and Managing Director BVB Football Academy.

"We would never say that you can copy what we are doing here. But we can share what we've done. We will open our doors to HFC and share insights. Due to the pandemic, we are currently trying to help them digitally, giving them access to certain tactical and technical aspects of the game. Our coaches are setting this up. The coaches of Hyderabad can use them for their planning and daily coaching."

"I want to say this is not about teaching. It's rather about exchanging information and giving access. It's like a buffet, and you can take whatever you like. You don't have to consume everything that we serve you," he remarked.


Hyderabad FC's partnership with Borussia Dortmund mainly focuses on grassroots and youth development.   -  Special Arrangement


Main objectives of the partnership

Suresh Letchmanan, managing director - BVB Asia Pacific, added that the Nizams might get a clearer idea of everything if both teams collaborate on the field rather than virtually. He also explained the goals both clubs wish to achieve during their tie-up.

"Virtual stuff is great but nothing like being on the ground. We want to have the team here and vice versa, not just the players but the staff and management," he stated.

"There are four key objectives we want to achieve alongside HFC. One is to have our coaches in India. I think this is long overdue. We are hopeful that at some stage, we can have them there to share our philosophy as well as create new touchpoints for the youth players, giving them an understanding of our system and showing them the BVB way face to face."

"Secondly, to have the Hyderabad team coming over to Dortmund. We are fortunate enough to have the academy train pretty close to the first team. It's inspirational for the young players who want to progress to the senior side. So, these are experiences that we would like to share in person with everyone from HFC."

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"Thirdly, we would like to touch upon fan engagement. Where else could you see 25,000 people in one stand constructing a 'Yellow Wall'. Due to the pandemic, we missed fully crowded stadiums with fans screaming during Bundesliga match days. We want to conduct webinars and workshops to share our story. With Hyderabad also wearing a black and yellow jersey, hopefully, they can replicate a yellow wall in their stadium."

"Finally, our coaches, together with HFC coaches, will identify a few valuable youth talents showing potential. These handpicked players will get a chance to come over to Dortmund and train with our academy. We are still a long way from achieving this, so patience is needed," said Letchmanan.

The progress so far

Hyderabad FC co-owner Varun Tripuraneni, who was associated with fellow ISL teams Chennaiyin FC and Kerala Blasters FC in the past, stressed that the BVB deal is unlikely to provide concrete results this year because of COVID.

"The intent behind the partnership is to start small but keep growing. Just before the second lockdown, we were building our youth teams. We were scouting kids for the under-13 and under-15 squads. But that didn't happen. The current situation is tough, and progress will be a bit slow till things ease up. However, we are continuously exploring various opportunities," he said.

Tripuraneni stressed that Dortmund's prime focus will be on developing Hyderabad FC's grassroots structure. He also spoke about the activities that have taken place between the clubs so far.

"The youth development departments from both clubs have been in touch. We've given a brief on what we are trying to do as part of our grassroots plan in Hyderabad. There have been a lot of valuable inputs from the BVB coaches."

"In early January, we had an E-Football competition, where some of our first team players took on some of the Dortmund stars. So that was an interesting activity. It wasn't something planned much earlier. But due to the current scenario, we knew we had to improvise, and it went about really well," he said.

The future plans

Borussia Dortmund was planning to conduct a 'Legends Game' in Kolkata back in March 2020. But the pandemic had other ideas. The last time the Bundesliga outfit toured Asia was in 2017 during pre-season. According to Scholz, The Black and Yellows are keen on touring Asia again, and especially India.

"We always had a strong commitment to go to Asia this year. Unfortunately, it's not possible. Our partners there (HFC, Thai Premier League team Buriram United, Australian NPL club Marconi FC, Iwate Grulla Morioka in Japan, China’s Shandong Luneng and Warriors FC of Singapore) are looking forward to meeting us on the ground."

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"Specifically, with regards to India, we would certainly love to come over with our legends to play a game in Hyderabad. For the first team, we will have to see when it's possible to travel. And then playing in India can certainly be an option."

Despite not being mentioned in their present agreement, Scholz confirmed that BVB might be open to loaning out reserve or youth players to the ISL sometime in the future.

"With regards to sending young players on loan, that's not yet part of our current plans. But I wouldn't say this cannot happen in the future. The sky is the limit. We don't know where this ends. However, we always want to take it step by step and let it grow organically," he added.

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