Defending Indian Super League (ISL) league-stage winners FC Goa and German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig have entered into a strategic partnership for 'youth development' that will run until 2023. Goa co-owner Akshay Tandon and Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff made the joint announcement via a zoom press conference on Thursday.
What is the deal about, and is it a first of its kind?
The two clubs say it won't 'merely be a licensing deal', unlike some of the partnerships Indian teams usually enter into with foreign clubs. "We want to live this cooperation, not merely send them our logo," Mintzlaff said. According to Goa, this is a first-of-its kind partnership for the Indian market.
The three-year deal is to establish and run football training camps for youngsters, starting with the state of Goa and then expanding across the country. The two clubs have decided to proceed with the courses at the earliest, starting with a series of specially designed online class.
Once travel is safe, RB Academy coaches will be flying into India while Goa will be sending coaches and youth-team players for advanced training at the RB facilities in Leipzig. While Mantzlaff stated that this was the first step towards increasing co-operation between the two clubs, he also made it clear that from a Red Bull group point of view, they would not be bringing Goa into the umbrella of RB clubs around the world.
Who are RB Leipzig?
RB Leipzig are a rising force of European football. Established in 2009, the club worked its way up the German league structure at breakneck speed, and were promoted to the Bundesliga by 2016. A year later the club qualified for the UEFA Champions League, and on their first go they reached the semi-finals of arguably the world's biggest club competition.
Managed by the highly rated Julian Nagelsmann, they are currently second in the Bundesliga (behind Bayern Munich by two points), and second in their Champions League group (behind Manchester United on goal difference, and ahead of PSG by three points).
What's in it for Leipzig?
The primary aim appears to be to increase reach, and expand the global footprint of the club. This is Leipzig's first foray into the Asian market, and it's one that Mintzlaff sees as the perfect springboard for the future. The sentence "this is a country of 1.4 billion people" was oft repeated when explaining the reason India was chosen.
Mintzlaff believes that after unprecedented domestic success in the first 11 years of their existence, it is time for Leipzig to move global. He also stated that as part of this goal, Leipzig plan to travel with their senior team to India, but the dates are understandably undecided due to the current situation.
On the face of it, it is clear that they are here to tap into the Indian economy, to assess if they can carve out a piece of a potentially large market for themselves, and to do so without coming in blind. The presence of a local partner, especially one with its own strong youth development system enables them to minimize financial risk and maximize reach. And build from there.
Mintzlaff said the programme will give the club a better understanding of the football market in India. "In phase II, we will integrate our youth/scouting in department to identify talents. But those are things you can't plan for," he said.
Finding someone who can play for them sometime in the future would make the deal perfect, but that is not the driving force behind this decision. So, don't hold your breath for an Indian tearing it up for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga because of this one programme just yet.
What's in it for Goa?
Tandon had earlier expressed the need for investment in Indian football, and this is a product of that thought process. While the RB group's involvement with Goa will not be on the direct investment lines of the City Football Group and Mumbai City, it is a first step.
At the core of it, the deal seems to be a simple one for Goa. Avail of the technical expertise and knowledge base that has seen Leipzig race through the German divisions to identify, recruit, and develop young talent.
This emphasis on youth appears to be a fundamental platform of all that Goa are doing. In fact, reports at the time suggested that they parted ways with their very successful, very talented coach Sergio Lobera last season because of their differences in approach to the youth programme, and its utilization by the senior team. They, therefore, view this deal as the logical next step in expanding their youth programme.
It helps that Leipzig are the kind of modern club Goa aspire to be in the Indian market. They are aggressive on and off the field. They challenge the status quo. On the pitch, they play the kind of modern, possession-based, attacking football that Goa are hell bent on making their identity.
Leipzig's Academy and its coaching talent have received praise from all quarters and it's that key resource that Goa want to tap into. They have seen how the club work first-hand - their assistant coach Clifford Miranda worked with Leipzig's coaching staff as part of his AFC Pro license course last season - and they seem impressed.
To Goa, it does not just make footballing sense; it is a smart business decision too. With high-end technical expertise coming in from Leipzig, it helps Goa level up their scouting and development network without overextending their own finances.
For now, the online courses will kick start the program. In theory, it appears to be a good deal, one that goes beyond the in-name-only business partnerships that plagued ISL's formative years. This is mainly thanks to the proposed direct involvement of the RB Leipzig coach staff, the integration of Leipzig's technical expertise into the already well planned FC Goa youth programme, and access of the Leipzig facilities for both staff and players from the Indian club. There's focus, and it appears well directed.
It remains to be seen how effective it can be, though, and how it will stand out - on the ground - from similar programmes the Indian market has seen.