It has been Indian football's best-kept secret until two days go. City Football Group acquired a 65 percent majority stake in Indian Super League club Mumbai City FC in what could be a paradigm-shifting moment for Indian club football.
This makes Mumbai City FC the eighth football club under their umbrella. CFG owns defending Premier League champions Manchester City Football Club but also hold stakes in New York City FC (USA), Girona (Spain), Club AtlÃ©tico Torque (Uruguay), Sichuan Jiuniu (China), Yokohama F Marinos (Japan), Melbourne City (Australia), thereby boasting of a scouting network and the wealth of over 1,500 players kept under tabs by their sister clubs. That India was targeted by CFG as the third Asian market to enter ahead of South Korea, Singapore and the likes legitimises it as a potential superpower as a world football economy.
Firstpost caught up with Indranil Das Blah, the CEO of Mumbai City FC, to interview one of the facilitators of this momentous deal that could open the club and Indian club football in general to state-of-the-art processes employed in world football today.
Firstpost: Can you walk us through the genesis of the takeover?
Indranil Das Blah: I won't be able to tell you who approached whom, but the intention to start a relationship started almost a year ago. That's when the talks were initiated and both parties were interested. Since that period there was a significant due diligence process that happened: CFG have spent a long time in India, various departments of theirs spent a lot of time here to understand the Indian market, to understand Mumbai City, to get a sense of football in India.
Our technical team, the finance teams, commercial teams, legal teams spent time with the CFG folk. The contractual process took a while, but the primary objective of the relationship is to see how CFG can add immediate short-term and long term value to Mumbai City football's infrastructure, ecosystem, training and everything else, the commercial development and the rest will follow. That's something CFG completely agree with. That's the genesis of the takeover and why the partnership has happened.
FP: Considering the duration of due diligence, how hard was it for people involved to contain that excitement and keep this development under wraps?
IDB: People were aware that Manchester City made enquiries into the Indian market. Their CEO, Ferran Soriano did say, "Yes, we are looking at India." That set the cat among the pigeons, in the sense there were lots of reports that happened around March this year.
The majority were conjecturing that, yes, it is Mumbai City FC. Then the other two clubs that were bandied about in the reports were Jamshedpur FC and Bengaluru FC, so that took the heat away from us because people weren't saying that it has to be Mumbai City FC with utmost certainty. There were plenty of calls from the media coming in, but ultimately everyone involved with the transaction managed to do a good job keeping it under wraps until the day before yesterday.
FP: What was your role in the takeover process?
IDB: To facilitate it: To make sure that CFG got all the information they needed to make the correct decision. And also to protect my owners and make sure that the deal that was tabled as a fair one for (both) sides.
You always hear a lot of stories about big, global conglomerates buying a slightly smaller club in stature and the terms are one-sided, but what I can say is that CFG have been outrightly fair in the transaction. They are good people.
As I've said, the cornerstone of this relationship is to improve the football in Mumbai as soon as possible and both parties have walked into this relationship with their eyes open knowing that it won't be easy. Mumbai has its challenges in terms of infrastructure and real estate, so what they could have done in other smaller clubs may not be possible here immediately, but we've set ourselves short, medium and long-term goals.
Like Ferran said at the launch, this is a long-term project and (they) are here to invest significant time and money.
FP: In regards to short, medium and long-term goals, can you give us an overview as to what they are?
IDB: I can tell you that one of the goals is to understand the grassroots system and the youth system and see how they can add immediate value to it. As far as India is concerned, and the ISL is concerned, we probably have one of the best grassroots programmes. But when you obviously compare that to some of the Premier League clubs, or you look at (Barcelona's) La Masia, we have a long, long way to go. That is one pressing area of expertise that we'll be heavily relying on " even if it's just to understand how to structure our grassroots better, structure our youth teams better.
In terms of the first team, this season CFG won't be able to impact that too much because we have a set team and the season is well underway, but from next season onwards we will be looking to benefit from their scouting recruitment networks to ensure we have a competitive first-team playing in the ISL.
FP: Mumbai City FC becomes the eighth club under the CFG umbrella, there might be some concern among fans that they might be spreading themselves a little thin; could you address that? And the steps that are taken to make sure that the mechanisms are in place?
IDB: I don't think so " from what little that I know of the people involved and having interacted with them for a significant time now, they have clarity in terms of what they want from each association in each part of the world. They don't seem like the sort of people who would bite more off than they can chew. It is not haphazard; every club that they have bought, there's a distinct strategy to it " what that is, the CFG folks will be in a better position to give you an insight.
As far as we are concerned, we don't see them being spread thin at all; if anything they will significantly invest in resources in India " whether that will be at the expense of other clubs under their umbrella, they will be able to tell you. But being the eighth club, it is not like we will not be treated as well as the others. They are very, very serious about India.
FP: CFG's chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, said they will be looking to play an active role in Mumbai's community. Could you elaborate on that?
IDB: In Ferran Soriano's introductory speech yesterday, he asserted that they are aware of the (prevalent) culture and the sensitivities and that they are not here to tell people how Manchester City does things, and that they are here to immerse themselves in it and learn from it, and then see how they can elevate that from a football point-of-view.
From our discussions, CFG was very clear that our fanbase has the be at the centre of the club because if we don't build a strong community, everything else will fall flat. That is the cornerstone of building a club.
Even at the event yesterday, Ferran and those involved were adamant that there need to be fans present at the announcement. Ferran and the leadership team of both Mumbai City FC and CFG spent time with the fans yesterday, and you don't really expect that when a partnership is launched, as it's usually a corporate affair or a media presentation.
That's what the chairman alluded to " you can't build a football club without getting the community involved.
FP: I believe it was Ferran Soriano who said at the unveiling that CFG doesn't want to lose money here " so what is it about the Indian market or Mumbai City FC specifically has piqued their interest?
IDB: One, India is a large football market. Despite it being dominated by cricket, football is its number two spot. So even if you have a few million following Mumbai City or the Premier League, it makes a huge difference. And Mumbai especially has a large consumer market where it had the highest disposable income in the country. The most number of Premier League fans come from Mumbai than any other city. So even from a strictly commercial point of view, if there is a city you want to do business in India, it is Mumbai, as it is the financial hub of the country.
Yes, he did say they don't want to lose money, but it is, after all, a process. It's not that CFG will start generating money right away. But what they do well is that they utilise distinct commercial relationships across its clubs. Those are the kind of synergies we expect with some of the global partners coming on board. With Mumbai City FC we have been fairly successful in terms of selling sponsorships, but CFG being the best at what they do, there will be a lot of scope to learn.
There many benefits to pitching Mumbai City FC as a part of the CFG family to sponsors, rather than just a standalone club. This relationship will ensure we will get a head start as compared to other ISL clubs.