India is in the right direction in developing women’s football, feels former professional footballer and La Liga ambassador Anair Lomba.
“I think India is on the right path in terms of women’s football. India is doing very well, particularly at the grassroots level. The under-17 World Cup which happened in India last year was a very good initiative, as it helps to create role models and provides inspiration for youngsters,” said Lomba, who is currently in India, working on the country’s first full-fledged residential academy for girls at Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh.
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The academy, a product of a collaboration between La Liga and the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, a reputed international NGO, began in 2021 and is based in Anantapur Sports Village.
The Vicente Ferrer Foundation began its operations in India through its Rural Development Trust (RDT) in 1969 at Anantapur. The foundation employs a ‘community-based approach’ focussing on vulnerable groups, including women, making its partnership with La Liga feasible.
“In every country, we have a presence, we try to cooperate with the grassroots level football project. In the case of India, RDT’s deep connection with Spain made it easier for us to establish a relationship. We began our association with RDT six years ago, beginning with providing jerseys and kits. Now it has evolved into the running of the first women-only residential football academy in India,” said Jose Antonio Cachaza, La Liga India Managing Director.
Regarding locating the academy in Anantapur, Antonio said, “We had a strong connection with RDT before itself, and their existing infrastructure in the locality helped with our decision. Football is a growing sport in India, and more importantly, our primary objective is development. So it made sense to establish ourselves here.”
The academy provides financial support and sponsor educational expense for one-year to selected players, who will also be enrolled in schools and provided with healthcare access and social skills training, in addition to football coaching.
“I am surprised by the talent levels of players here and impressed with the motivation on display here. After observing the players here, we feel we can improve our coaching techniques and lessons to keep going in the desired direction,” said the 33-year-old Lomba, who began her career at Barcelona before establishing herself at Valencia and Espanyol in Liga F in Spain.
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Lomba, however, pointed out the language barrier as the most significant obstacle she and her team faced in Anantpur while dealing with children and the local community.
“Sometimes while training the girls, I feel like I am not able to convey what I want because my English is not that good. It is challenging, but it is a wonderfully rewarding experience,” added Lomba, who is currently working with trainers, coaches and players of the academy.