The woman behind Churchill's success

Valanka Alemao (in blue) with some of the players of Churchill Brothers.-Valanka Alemao (in blue) with some of the players of Churchill Brothers.

The 32-year-old Valanka Alemao was appointed the CEO of the newly-crowned I-League champion Churchill Brothers a year back. Backed with a woman’s ability to multitask, she has started off well. By Ayon Sengupta.

Sports mostly have always been associated with testosterone, the overabundance of the male hormone. Women sportstars have been championed and revered but then again at least the administrative domain of the games have largely (unfairly) remained a male bastion. Karren Brady (vice-chairman of West Ham) and Carolyn Still (CEO of Mansfield Town) have created quite a stir in England for breaking through the glass ceiling.

And now, in India, Valanka Alemao, is ready to wage her own lone battle, against the patriarchal setup. The 32-year-old was appointed the CEO of the newly-crowned I-League champion Churchill Brothers a year back. Backed with a woman’s ability to multitask, she has started off well, working behind the scenes, keeping a check on her emotional, often-volatile father (club owner Churchill Alemao) and reaping in the benefits of putting faith in unknown local talent.

“We won the League. It has been the best possible start. Now, I want to inspire other women to get into sports. The complete absence of gender bias in my family has helped me to this position,” she says. “We (women) are good at multitasking, so it’s only natural that we will be the best managers. Hopefully, others will follow suit, all we need is some initial backing.”

With football always dominating dinner table conversations since childhood, she is at the “right” job and is happy carrying forward the football obsession of her father. “As a club we are here because of my father’s dedication. And it has to continue growing bigger,” she states. “But football club management is hard work in this country. The perception is wrong, the visibility is nil and money (sponsors) is scarce. But I will rather work and not fret. I only pray that other stakeholders, the AIFF, too, want to work for the betterment of Indian football.”

Walking the talk, she has already helped setup a training facility and a youth academy and is in the process of acquiring land from the state government to construct a stadium. “These are important but costly steps, so we are ready to take one step at a time. Community building is an important aspect for football clubs and our players regularly visit local schools to interact with young footballers,” the law graduate says. “Locals, local players should form the bulwark of teams. The whole family will feel proud then, they will be involved. So correct scouting and coaching is paramount to success.”

Picking former Rangers right winger Danny McLennan as her favourite coach — he was in charge of the team in the late 90s — Valanka explains the importance of having the right man for the job. “He will be always my favourite. A word from him will change a player, a tactical switch or a substitution will change a game,” she recalls. “He set up a proper path (youth development) for us and I am still in touch with his wife. Our club is a family and you can never leave a family.”

This gospel has probably helped the side to be one of the most consistent forces in Indian football — two national league titles, four times runners-up. The club now has set its sights on Asia and it definitely has the right woman on top.