I-League leaders Chennai City FC Wednesday signed a deal with Swiss champions FC Basel, which has nurtured current Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, to sell 26 per cent of its share, becoming the first Indian side to do so with a foreign club.
Established in 1893, FC Basel has been Swiss national champions 20 times and have qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League more times than any other club of Switzerland. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2017-18 of the top-flight European club competition.
Both Chennai FC co-owner Rohit Ramesh and FC Basel President Bernhard Burgener refused to divulge the financial aspect of the deal but said the partnership will focus on co-operation for setting up of, among other things, a residential Youth Academy in Coimbatore and rolling out of football schools across Tamil Nadu in Phase-1.
"We ventured to make this move, so that our fans get a world-class football club. Key parts of the deal entail transfer of knowledge in all departments including sporting, infrastructure and legal areas to support CCFC to make it sustainable," Rohit told a press conference after signing the deal.
"What else we want from a top European football club with such a rich heritage and record of producing world-class players."
Rohit said that despite the sale of 26 per cent stake to FC Basel, his club has not given anything to the Swiss club in terms of decision making.
"All the decision making power remains with us, it is very clear. They (FC Basel) will initially focus on the youth development structure and the academy part. Later on, they will also help us in the infrastructure aspect of the club," he said.
Rohit also said that his club would not be joining the Indian Super League in the near future and would not mind if the I-League was relegated to the second tier in the impending Indian domestic football restructuring.
Asked if there was any plan to shift base from Coimbatore to Chennai, he said, "I have not thought about it (shifting to Chennai). As of now, we are based in Coimbatore and will continue to do so.
"At Coimbatore, the costs cuts down to half and since the city is in the middle of Tamil Nadu, it's convenient to reach out to fans of Tamil Nadu."
Burgener said his immediate focus would be on making the already established academy (at Coimbatore) a word class facility with expertise from FC Basel and also produce good coaches through the introduction of a top-class coach education system.
"It is also a historic moment for FC Basel as we become strategically and financially active for the first time in Asia. India has shown growing football interest in general but also the recently concluded Asian Cup has showcased that there is immense footballing potential to be tapped," he said.
"We want to make the academy (at Coimbatore) a world-class facility and produce coaches of high calibre. Our academy in FC Basel can help in doping that."
Asked why he chose an Indian club instead of one in China, he said, "In China, most of the academies have government control. It is not so in India."
As part of the plan for the Coimbatore academy, it was revealed that it would provide free education and boarding facilities for talented players from the age group of 10-18 so that they could study, play and focus on a career in football.
All India Football Federation General Secretary Kushal Das said: "This (26 per cent share) deal with a legacy club of Switzerland to provide capital and technical know-how is to mind the first ever in Indian football. I will all the success to both the clubs."
Das said a new coach of the Indian senior football team to succeed Stephen Constantine is not expected before April-May.