The mornings in Adyar, T. Nagar, Velachery, and Thoraipakkam in Chennai are buzzing with a fresh wave of energy. And that’s not due to the legendary filter coffee alone.
Chennai-based Girish Mathrubhootham, founder & CEO of Freshworks, has hit up on a new idea - FC Madras - thanks to which Chennai central has caught some fresh football fever. His academies across these areas have scores of kids trading the cricket bat for a football.
There is no denying that Girish is a fighter on the software pitch. People in the Software as a Service (SaaS) industry have seen him fight the everyday battle to establish dominance. However, no one expected him to set up a football club with a residential football academy to boot. Coming just ahead of the World Cup football extravaganza in Russia, the timing is just about right.
Girish has set up a charitable trust to promote grassroots-level football, and launched FC Madras, a professional football club that will compete in the U13 and U15 divisions of the I-League, the national football league.
The residential academy will offer free scholarships for talented young players who want to pursue a career in football. FC Madras trust will partner with Mahogany FC, a football club based out of Chennai, which will provide technical expertise to run the academy. Going forward, all activities performed by Mahogany FC will be transitioned to FC Madras.
Freshworks, his Saas firm, was launched in 2010. He has built it into a mammoth company, and hopes to do a multi-billion dollar IPO in the near future. The company has raised nearly $150 million so far, and is valued at over $700 million. He is no stranger to risk taking and never backs off from executing an idea that he truly believes in. The new club is, in other words, an extension of his ambitious, yet grounded personality.
FC Madras is preparing an international size football pitch ready in Thoraipakkam, Chennai, for its home matches. The plan is to get it certified by FIFA before next season’s I-League takes off.
The club will look to strengthen its academy initially, and play through the youth divisions, before it launches a senior team. The best players in the academy will progress to the next level and represent FC Madras in the U13 and U15 divisions. Eventually they graduate to the U18 and senior teams.
FC Madras also offers training modules for kids and youngsters. It has over 20 training centres in the city, including the ones in areas like Adyar, T. Nagar, Velachery, and Thoraipakkam.
The birth of FC Madras comes at a time when football is fast becoming a popular sport in India. Just the other day, the Indian football team captain Sunil Chhetri, who has won 100 international caps in national colours, appealed to the football lovers to turn up in large numbers to watch the team play. And the fans responded, and turned up in thousands, turning the gallery into a sea of blue jerseys.
Girish has probably sensed this.
India has been steadily rising up the ranks, and in May this year it rose to a FIFA ranking of 97. A year ago it was ranked at 173. Under the present coach Stephen Constantine, India has broken into the top 100 for the first time in over two decades. So this has been a breakthrough year.
Arindam Mahogany, head of youth development at FC Madras, says the objective of the academy is to identify talented kids from across the country, and give them a platform to become professional football players. “We’ll be managing them both on-field and off-field, including high-performance training, nutrition, and ongoing education,” he says.
For inspiration, the FC Madras can look at cross town rivals Bengaluru FC, led by Sunil Chhetri. The club was built ground up in quick time, and is now widely regarded as the best run team in the country.
Now it’s the turn of Chennai, rather Madras. Mathrubhootham, who adores Chelsea players Eden Hazard and Didier Drogba, seems to be on a determined mission. The pitch is different but the goals are the same.