It is better late than never, feels former India football captain Shabbir Ali as his dreams of starting a full-fledged football academy finally take shape thanks to the initiative of MB Sports.

At 65, Shabbir has a big laugh when questioned if this project has come too late in his career. “Well, I look the other way. I am extremely grateful to Mr. Mirza Wasim Baig, CEO & MD of MB Sports, and Mr .Syed Ali Akbar Abedi, Head (Operations) of MB Sports, for fulfilling my dream,” he said.

“I was very keen at starting an academy at a place where there is a full-fledged ground. I am really glad that Shabbir Ali Football Academy (SAFA) at Bandlaguda near here will be operational from March 1,” said the former India coach.

“The initial plans are to recruit 20 boys each in the age groups of under-14, 16, 18 and 20. Emphasis will be on quality not on quantity,” added Shabbir, who is the fourth highest scorer of goals for India as per the latest All India Football Federation book.

RELATED| Shabbir Ali shares his Maradona moment

“It is not going to be easy to run the academy. But, what I am today is because of football, I am prepared to go the distance and work with all sincerity to produce quality players,” said the Dhyan Chand Awardee.

“We will work in tandem with the Telangana Football Association to ensure that,” he added.

Not surprisingly, two of Shabbir’s best friends and illustrious players of their time - Victor Amalraj and Mohd Farid (interestingly this duo happens to be the last players from Hyderabad to have played in the famous Kolkata League in late ‘70s) - were there at the formal launch.

RELATED| Hyderabad FC’s ISL debut a platform for state players to flourish  

“Hope Shabbir bhai ’s Academy produces players who go on to play not just in Kolkata but also for India,” Farid said.

For his part, Amalraj felt that SAFA can well revive the badly awaited football culture in the city. “Given his experience and class as a player and a coach, the academy should easily be the cradle of talent in the days to come,” he said as TFA Secretary G.P. Palguna nodded in approval.