Spanish football club Sevilla's president Jose Castro Carmona recently visited India as part of the club's five-year collaboration with FC Bengaluru United.
Through the tie-up, which was announced last year, Sevilla FC will look to strengthen their presence in Indian football, while FC Bengaluru United will use the "great opportunity to share Sevilla FC’s vast sporting experience and know-how”.
As part of the agreement, Sevilla will assist Bengaluru United in sports management, analysis, talent spotting, player development and optimisation of performance and usage of sport technology.
The two clubs will also explore opportunities to set up shared footballing schools in Karnataka.
THE WEEK caught up with Bengaluru United owner Gaurav Manchanda, Carmona and Sevilla chief data officer Elias Zamora Sillero. Excerpts from the interaction:
Bengaluru United owner Gaurav Manchanda
Q/ How do you think Sevilla's presence can help Indian football?
A/ The partnership between FC Bengaluru United and Sevilla FC is a significant moment for Indian football. Our partnership announcement in early 2021 received widespread national and international coverage, which put the spotlight firmly on Indian football. Later that year, our partnership was awarded the Best Internationalisation Strategy at the prestigious World Football Summit (WFS) awards. FCBU was the first football club to be recognised by the WFS, which again meant validation of the growing prowess of Indian football on the global stage. The leadership team of Sevilla FC is visiting India from June 7-11 and this has been the largest delegation of a leadership group from a top-performing European club to visit India. Sevilla FC has a rich, 132-year-old footballing history and the fact that they are looking to expand their brand footprint in India shows just how important the Indian football market, the Indian football fan, as well as the Indian business landscape, is today. Their experience, together with their established practices, and their technological know-how will naturally lead to an overall positive impact on Indian football as a whole.
Q/ For FC Bengaluru United specifically, what do you think are the key areas that Sevilla can help with?
A/ Though FC Bengaluru United is still around 3.5 years into its journey, we have notched up several exciting milestones. We are the reigning BDFA Super Division Champions, having won the title two years in a row. In 2021, we were invited to play in Asia’s oldest footballing tournament, the Durand Cup, and finished worthy semi-finalist. The fact that Sevilla FC chose us to partner with them, shows the alignment in our vision.
This partnership was a great achievement for us – similar partnerships have happened featuring I-League & ISL teams, and for Sevilla FC to partner with an I-League second division team, is testimony to the growing prowess of FC Bengaluru United. The city and community of Bengaluru lie at the heart of FCBU and it is with this foundational focus that the club intends to grow. In accordance with the spirit, Sevilla FC will make available to us all its expertise and knowledge to help us achieve fast and robust development in Indian football.
Fans were able to see FC Bengaluru United in Sevilla FC’s traditional white and red colours from the start of the 2021/2022 season. Together with Sevilla FC during their visit to Bangalore, we launched the official Sevilla FC India fan club. We will also explore opportunities to set up shared footballing schools in Karnataka and Sevilla FC will also assist us in areas like sports management, analysis, talent spotting, player development and optimisation of performance and usage of sports technology. Sevilla FC is deeply committed to bolstering women’s football and as part of their visit, we also launched our KSFA Women’s B Division Team.
We will also work together on projects that address technological innovation, development and implementation in the sports industry. Both clubs will look to utilise Bengaluru’s vast technological expertise to study and evaluate innovative projects in the world of football as well as collaborate on various corporate social responsibility programs in India. One of the most interesting launches lined-up during their Hackathon – for the first time two football clubs will be coming together to launch an online Football Hackathon that will be a unique opportunity to effectively use data science in the space of professional football scouting and player performance analysis.
We will actively work to help Sevilla expand their global outreach in a vibrant footballing market like India. Some of the recent activations have included their crossbar challenges, a Holi contest where fans had a chance to win a T Shirt signed by a few of their players including Ivan Rakitic. Sevilla FC brings in 132 years of footballing experience into this partnership, something that a young team like ours can definitely benefit from. We look at them as big brothers and are excited to learn and grow with this partnership.
Q/ What do you think is realistic objective for next season. What would be the dream scenario?
A/ With Sevilla FC, we have a long-term partnership in place, and have already begun to put things in place. We will continue to work and implement more such projects over the next season. The intent behind our partnership has also been to put the global spotlight on Indian football and we also hope it will set the stage for FC Bengaluru United to become a use case to show just how successful international partnerships in the sporting world can be formed and developed for the benefit of both parties involved as well as for the larger good of the sport.
We recently appointed Khalid Ahmed Jamil, one of the top Indian coaches as our head coach. Khalid holds the distinction of being the first indian head coach of an ISL team and the first Indian coach to qualify for the ISL playoffs. We will look to build a strong team under him for the next season and to this end will be looking to recruit and retain players who bring in experience, flair, exciting talent and drive. We are confident that under him FCBU will be able to reach the next level of Indian football.
Q/ In how many years do you think the club can become regulars in I-League?
A/ In less than four years, we at FCBU have already shown tremendous positive growth and we can only move upward from here. Our performance – both on and off the field – has made the headlines. From winning the BDFA Super Division 2020-21 and reaching the semi-finals of the Durand Cup 2021 to signing up big names like Pedro Manzi & Luka Majcen, we have shown that we are a team to reckon with. Off the field, our partnership with Sevilla FC has garnered significant interest and shows our deep commitment to contributing to the overall growth of Indian football.
Over the next few years, our primary goal will be, of course, to reach the next level of Indian football and be part of the ISL and I-League. We also are hoping to work towards and forge more partnerships that will help in the growth of football both in Bengaluru and in India.
Sevilla president Jose Castro Carmona
Q/ It has been a year since the deal was announced. Covid-19 may have slowed things down. But what are some of the processes you have initiated?
A/ I think the sharing of experiences has been quite fruitful so far. Last November we received a visit from FC Bengaluru in Seville and now we are here. On balance, I think we are quite satisfied. In this visit we are taking an important step to establish the Sevilla FC brand in India and to help FC Bengaluru with its ambitious sporting project.
Q/ Could you give a timeline of how you have planned things over the initial five-year deal? Like what are you hoping to achieve by year two, year three, and so on.
A/ We have many projects, but we want to take it step by step and not rush things. What I can tell you is that we are extremely satisfied with our partnership with FC Bengaluru; a club that are more than a partner, they are our friends because that is how we feel. In the first year of the agreement, the results could not be more positive and I would especially like to highlight the hackathon that we are going to carry out, from which we are convinced that we are going to obtain very interesting information.
Q/ What are your observations about India as a football market. It is a growing market, but what are the things that are most important for Indian football at this stage?
A/ Football has become the second most popular sport in this country, only behind cricket, according to some studies we are handling. There are more than 90 million people who are true football fans in this country and more than half of those people follow LaLiga on a regular basis. The opportunities for Sevilla FC are, therefore, immense in this country. And they are also immense for Indian football, because in a country with such a large population, talent is taken for granted. The challenge now is to create a football culture, if possible from the grassroots level.
Q/ There is wide support in India for European clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Sevilla's LaLiga rivals—Barcelona and Real Madrid. Do you feel this could be a big challenge for Sevilla in winning over Indian fans?
A/ We know that we are competing against giants that have four or five times our budget... But that is the challenge and the truth is that we have done badly. If Sevilla FC know anything, it's that dreams, if you work hard, can come true. We are used to competing with fewer resources, but we are tremendously resourceful. Our commitment to the development of technology to make a difference with respect to our competitors is good proof of that.
Q/ Can we hope to see the Sevilla team in India on a preseason tour?
A/ Of course, it can happen. This summer, for example, we are going to South Korea. At Sevilla FC we are aware that investing in the internationalisation of our brand is the best way to grow economically and socially.
Sevilla chief data officer Elias Zamora Sillero
Q/ What are the key areas in which the use of data evolved in football in recent years?
A/ The three key areas are scouting, analysis, and fan engagement and characterisation.
In the area of football scouting, tracking and eventing data permit a full empirical detailed characterisation of the performance of the players on the pitch. This allowed us to identify players under the radar with outstanding performance and to contrast subjective opinions of players with facts extracted from data. As a result, we could find good players that other clubs are not aware of, and we can increase the probability that hired players have a successful career in the club.
In the area of analysis, the main revolution is the new functionality enabled by data, that allow us to describe the collective performance of the team. Tracking of all the players on the pitch and the ball in real time allows to change our paradigm from individual game description to collective behaviour of both teams. This makes possible for coaches to identify weak and strong points that before were hidden. In this case a collective approach is much deeper that the sum of individual player approaches.
In the area of fan description, the revolution spins around fans already identified and fans that interact in social media. Machine learning algorithms permit the profiling and segmentation of these fans. This allows both individual hypertargeted marketing, providing everyone services and products that the are really interested in, and the generation of contents tailored to the each one of the heterogeneous groups that together compose the Sevilla FC fans.
Q/ How can data be used to identify problems in Indian football and rectify them?
A/ The analytical and scouting data-driven capacities can allow Indian football to compare its performance, weak and strong points, with the rest of the competition in the world in order to identify technical and tactical skills to be improved.
The data collection and deep characterisation of fans is fundamental to grow the fan base in India. Football has a huge potential to grow and clubs and media should generate high quality content that fits the preferences of the fans to increase the pace of growth.