Delhi United Football Club has set out on a mission – to be the best team in Asia by 2030.
That’s 13 years from now. Followers of the sport in India will tell you that 13 years is hardly enough time for such lofty ambitions to come to fruition. But when you have a former FIFA development officer for south and central Asia at the helm of the club as president, the odds of that happening have got to be slightly better. Shaji Prabhakaran is an optimistic man.
Under the new management of Shaji Prabhakaran and Krishn Anand Sharma (chairman), Delhi United FC is aiming to make waves in Indian football. “I’ll tell you what the joke is,” Sharma said at a gathering announcing the strategic vision of DUFC in the capital. “The joke is that despite having a population of over a billion people, India is not a force in football. We want to change that.”
With the new owners, the club (which currently plays in the I-League second division) has also ushered in new investment. “We took over in April, but it was around August that everything was formalized. We want to dream big, and why not? We have inspiration, look at Bengaluru FC. In the four years since being established, they have made huge strides,” Prabhakaran said. “But even though we are dreaming big, we have milestones to begin with. We want to be Indian champions by 2024 first.”
The capital was a power centre of Indian football in the 1970s and 1980s, and when Delhi United was formed in 1995, it was with the intention of becoming a club of national relevance. Although now respected locally where they are one of the major teams in the Delhi senior division, the club has so far not managed to make an impact at the national level. A solitary Durand Cup appearance in 2012 as winners of the Delhi senior division is one of the high points the club has experienced in its recent history.
The new management plans to change that. And according to Prabhakaran, youth development will be the cornerstone of everything that the club hopes to achieve in the future. He said, “Our priority is to establish a residential academy for the U16 age group. We have already laid the groundwork for that, and identified a venue. We hope to have it operational in the near future.”
However, Prabhakaran is also aware of the challenges that lie ahead, what with there being a lack of clarity about the future of the I-League and ISL, and a limited budget. “We can’t wait for the structure (in the league) to come and then start planning, because we will lose time. We have to start building and planning from now. The idea is also to make DUFC a community based club, where fans play an active part in the running of the club, where they feel a sense of ownership and belonging. In addition to this, we have also adopted the villages of Gamroz and Wazirpur, where we train kids and initiate social change at the grassroots level.”
With Harjinder Singh, the head coach of the Chandigarh Football Academy appointed as the Chief Technical Officer, the club is certainly in good hands. Singh has trained many of the erstwhile Indian senior team players, as well as the likes of Jeakson Singh and Amarjeet Singh Kiyam, who will be leading the charge for India at the U-17 World Cup in a few days.
Delhi United FC will hope to achieve all the aims they have set for themselves, as football fans in the city continue to look for a team they can truly call their own. Prabhakaran is confident that the city has all the right things going for it. As he said in his own optimistic words, “Delhi is a corporate, political, media and demographic power centre, and even the youth in Delhi is very aspiring. We definitely have an advantage,” he signed off.