Sachin Tendulkar has mesmerised millions of cricket fans during his 24-year-long illustrious international career and the Indian batting legend has now become the source of hope for some young sports enthusiasts, this time from football, in Kerala.
A group of 16 young football fans, under the banner of World Malayalee Football Fans Association, has begun a social media campaign in favour of Tendulkar bidding for the Kochi franchise in the Indian Super League football tournament, scheduled to be held in September-October. (Also read: Tendulkar adorns cover of 2014 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack)
Reports have been doing the rounds that Tendulkar may bid for the Kochi team, one of the likely franchises of the much-anticipated ISL, an IPL-style football league to be organised by IMG-Reliance.
Rijni John, a telecommunication professional from a town near Kasaragod and the brain behind the campaign, said Tendulkar could be the godsend for the revival of football in Kerala if he happens to buy a Kochi-based team in the ISL.
"We have been praying that the God of cricket himself gets involved in the ISL. We read news reports that Tendulkar may bid for Kochi franchise in ISL (along with PVP Ventures). We don't know the exact position but we are hoping that he actually buys the franchise. That will be the godsend for the revival of football in Kerala," John told PTI over phone from Kerala. (Also read: Yuvraj should play in 2015 Cricket World Cup: Tendulkar)
The deadline for buying "invitation to bid" tenders had expired on March 27 and bid winners for the eight-franchise tournament are likely to be announced in a few days.
The facebook page 'Sachin Irro - Sachin For Kerala Campaign' says the initiative is 'an online promotion to show support for Sachin Tendulkar's bid for Kerala team in the upcoming Indian Super League'.
"I started the Facebook page on April 3 to drum up support among football fans for Tendulkar's bid for Kochi franchise in ISL. Since then around 600 football fans and corporate groups have joined our group," said the 30-year-old John, a B Tech degree holder.
John said if Tendulkar gets involved in Kochi franchise, it will do wonders for the revival of football in Kerala, once a nursery of Indian football and provider of several national team players, including the legendary I M Vijayan.
"A Kochi-based team in the ISL with Tendulkar brand in it will do wonders at a higher level of football in Kerala. But the more important aspect will be his involvement at the grassroot level," said John who works as Lead Engineer Managed Services Operations at the Bangalore office of Paris-based global telecommunications equipment company, Alcatel Lucent.
"There is lots of untapped talent at the grassroot level in Kerala and I read that any franchise in the ISL will have to put in place a robust grassroot programme."
"Tendulkar has been a proven and successful sportsperson, a famous and known face throughout the country and he can really inspire children from the villages and schools to take up football. In that way we want to tap the talent from the villages and hinterland so that Kerala can reclaim the lost glory in football," he said.
"Tendulkar can see by himself how much grassroot talent Kerala has and if he is buying the Kochi team in the ISL, we will definitely invite him to visit the villages and interact with young talents."
John said World Malayalee Football Fans Association was set up last year to help talented grassroot-level players get sponsors. He said the association has corporate members, besides individuals, in India and abroad.
"We are a sort of via media or facilitators for young talents to get sponsors and support. We don't give financial support to the youngsters or hold tournaments. But we identify talent and then try to get sponsors from business houses or other sources," he said.
"We also work for providing coaches for children in the villages, say for 15 days or a month. The cost for hiring coaches will be borne by corporates or companies.
"I feel there are people and corporate houses which are ready to sponsor the young talents. Only coordination is lacking and we want to do just that."