How a native of Remscheid is building bridges between football in Germany and India
Arunava Chaudhuri can be found wherever football is played. The 41-year-old was born in Remscheid, Germany, yet his heart beats for Indian football. His hobby has become a career. For almost 20 years, he has been working as a sports journalist, football and media consultant, for which he regularly shuttles between India and Germany. And for eight years he has been blogging about his favourite sport at arunfoot.com. In English, and primarily about India. He started his first football website IndianFootball.Com when the internet was still young. Today he reports for television, radio and newspapers. Of course about football; and about other sports. An interview about Indo-German football.
Mr Chaudhuri, how is it that your blog about Indian football is based in Germany?
Pretty simple. I was born in beautiful Remscheid. In April 1998, I founded IndianFootball.Com. Two friends subsequently joined me. Ours was virtually the first website dedicated to Indian football.
Can you talk about your experiences over the last 20 years?
I have been fortunate enough to gain an insight into football from all sides: as a reporter and consultant, in management and development. I helped organise away matches for German and Indian teams and I accompanied the teams. For instance, in 2008 I was in Kolkata at Salt Lake stadium at the game with FC Bayern Munich when Oliver Kahn stood between the posts for the last time. He played his final match against Mohun Bagan A.C. in front of 125,000 people. In 2010, I was even allowed to play for a few minutes for FC Bayern All Stars against East Bengal F.C.
What does your day look like when FC Bayern is not in India?
I am currently in Chandigarh. There is yet another football training session this evening. I am helping set up a new football academy. I commute between Germany and India about once or twice a month.
That sounds tiring.
After spending time in India, I am always happy to be back in my little, tranquil Remscheid. It is my home town. Yet I am also happy to travel between worlds.
How do you explain your enthusiasm for football?
I was born in Germany. Nothing unusual about being interested in football there. The fact that I moved to Kolkata with my family when I was ten years old didn’t change anything. That‘s when I learned about Indian football and started following it. As children, we spent a lot of time outdoors, played a great deal of sport, and we would always go to football matches. Things were different then than now, in the age of the internet and cable TV.
In other words, because you had no internet, football became a hobby and career?
I was always into sport. At the Calcutta International School there was plenty of sport in the curriculum. The students had a special affinity with football and that was to my benefit as well. I came back to Remscheid in 1992 and in 1996 went to the University of Wuppertal where I came into contact with the internet. And from then on I followed all the happenings in Indian football on the net. Something that was very, very difficult at the time. That’s why I created IndianFootball.Com.
You got to know India through football. Which part of the country was the most exciting?
Football took me to many places, to Punjab or to Mizoram, for instance. The north-east of India, also known as the Seven Sisters, was and is special. The region is beautiful, the people extremely hospitable. We played with 1899 Hoffenheim in Mizoram four years ago and worked with the local teams on developing an organisational structure for football and on the training curriculum. The response was positive, that was wonderful.
Incidentally, almost 70 per cent of the members of the Indian’s women’s national team come from the north-east, namely from Manipur. This could be because women in this part of the country often call the shots.
What is the women’s football scene like in India?
There’s plenty happening. Since 2016 there has been a national Indian Women’s League (IWL) with six teams. Manipur, Goa, Mumbai and Kolkata also have their own women’s league.
Kolkata is said to be football-crazy. What’s that about?
If I were to compare it with Germany, then with The Ruhr. There is a special relationship. And Asia’s oldest football clubs are based in Kolkata. MohunBagan A.C. is indeed the oldest club on the continent. Football has been played here longer than it has in Germany.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup was held in India in late 2017. What was the atmosphere like?
The enthusiasm was unparalleled. I was present at the stadium in Kolkata for the quarter final between Germany and Brazil, at the semi-final between England and Brazil and at the final between England and Spain. One could have easily sold over a million tickets for all three games. Had there been more seats available, more people would have come than will go in summer to the World Cup in Russia. Just goes to show how much interest there is and how much potential the sport has in India.
In general, how much interest is there in the sport? Where is football played in India?
The first mistake is to say that football is played only in certain parts of the country. This could be true in terms of professional football – one can see that from the professional clubs. But football is generally played across the country.
And more and more football academies opening up.
This has happened over the last ten years. Interest in European football is growing, particularly in the Champions League. Yet football is also an entry point to professional sport.
What is special about the Indian football League?
There are two leagues, to be exact. The I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL). The ISL started with eight teams four years ago. It has a robust advertising budget and tie-ups with TV channels. It aims to combine entertainment and sport. Something that works well with cricket in this country. Commercially, however, it is still a loss-making enterprise. In contrast, the less well-known I-League is more about the sport and about developing talent.
Where do you stand when India plays against Germany?
That would be difficult for me. Let me try and put it like this: my heart would be for India, my reason for Germany, as I have a relationship with both countries and their football federations. I try to be the bridge between Germany and India in football. And try to draw connections.
How does that work?
For instance in April, Kushal Das, the Secretary General of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) was on a visit to Germany. We visited some clubs, including DFB and DFL (Bundesliga). It is all about India being able to learn a great deal from Germany when it comes to football.
There is an exchange taking place. Why does India then not play an international role?
The problem lies in quality and funding. For example, there are no good trainers for youngsters. In a city like Mumbai, the problem is compounded by the lack of public space available [link to FuturePerfect] for children to play. The promotion of talent often starts at the top. Yet it is not only about money, but also about a structure, as you can see by taking a look at other countries. China, for instance, is investing billions. Doesn’t help much: it is no more successful than India. In contrast, countries in Africa or South America have much less by way of financial resources but play far better.
Do you also have an example of where it works in India?
In Goa, every village has its own football team. There is even a third league with over 150 teams. The Indian U-15 team is also in good shape: it will take part in the AFC Asian Cup.
And what about Germany?
German football is highly respected – as world champions in any case. FC Bayern or BVB are also extremely popular. And now it‘s World Cup year once again. The Indian press is definitely involved in the event. I have already read an article in one of the major Indian papers on the German World Cup squad and whether Manuel Neuer will be in the field despite injury. Even cricket start Virat Kohli has already taken to Twitter to express his enthusiasm for the German national team two years ago.
Is there anything you would like to wish Indian (German) football?
For India I wish more structure, organisation, and, above all, success at international level. India is obsessed with success. When it doesn’t happen, people quickly lose interest. While for Germany I wish that everything was not concentrated on the top sport in the Bundesliga because then amateur clubs like FC Remscheid face a difficult future. But for now it’s the World Cup.
And where will you be watching the matches?
Ideally, at a public viewing in Remscheid while working as an expert for television and papers and writing about the tournament in my blog, arunfoot.com.