Atletico Madrid, collaborators with new I-League team Inter Kashi, will build an academy in Varanasi, one that will be the best in Uttar Pradesh for sure, said Inter Kashi coach Carlos Santamarina.
Santamarina and assistant coach Javier Broch are part of the staff provided by the La Liga giants who forayed into India in 2014 as part-owners of Indian Super League (ISL) team Atletico de Kolkata. That partnership ended in 2017 because the majority owners of the ISL franchise “did not allow the development of the image of Atletico de Madrid through our academy in India,” Atletico Madrid CEO Miguel Angel Marin had told the club’s website then. After a collaboration with Mohun Bagan in 2020, ATK are now Mohun Bagan Super Giant.
Atletico Madrid next partnered with Jamshedpur FC but the primary focus was the Tata Football Academy. “The terms of the contract finished and this is a new challenge,” said Santamarina, 46, during a virtual interaction with select media on Tuesday. That contract was from 2019-23.
Santamarina was at the Tata Football Academy from 2019 and also manager of the ISL franchise’s reserve team in 2021-22. He returned to India because 11-time Spain champions Atletico Madrid asked him to, said Santamarina. “India is a strategic market.” Since 2017, Atletico Madrid are 50% owners of a team that has now qualified to the Mexican top tier.
Priority for Inter Kashi is to get the first team ready for the 2023-24 I-League, scheduled to start in the last week of October, said the coach. Former Jamshedpur FC defender Peter Hartley, goalie Arindam Bhattacharja, forward Sumeet Passi and midfielder Sehnaj Singh, all of whom have ISL experience, and Spanish winger Jordan Lamela are among those who have joined the new club. They have been training for two weeks.
“We have a big disadvantage because we are starting from zero. But once the first step is taken, we will be talking to people in Madrid (for the academy). The technical support for the academy will be provided by Atletico Madrid,” said Santamarina.
Like with the club’s academy project in Madrid, Santamarina said the academy would start with five-year-old boys and go up to 21-year-olds, all of them selected through trials. “The main thing is the academy, teaching boys and teaching coaches. Atletico de Madrid is not thinking of one season,” said Santamarina.
Atletico Madrid’s website says the academy will be called Atletico de Bharat. “Our club will contribute its long experience in the world of football in the start-up of this new club, both in the sporting part of the first team and in the development of grassroots football with the creation of the Atlético de Bharat Academy, since the talents from this state must look to other areas of the country for their football development as there is no club at the national level,” Atletico Madrid said on its website last June.
With I-League champions assured of promotion to ISL, subject to fulfilling club licensing requirements, Santamarina said the aim would be to win the title this term. “It is a big challenge but we will be working hard to achieve that.”
Bhattacharja said: “We have good facilities, the best of coaching and support staff. So, the players also need to step up.”
Inter Kashi and Namdhari FC are the new teams who successfully bid for entry into I-League, which will be a 13-team competition this time. AIFF had received a record five bids.