Way back when Bolton Wanderers were in crisis mode (read: a week-and-a-half ago), rumors were popping up on every possible avenue that Phil Gartside, the club's chairman, had flown to Asia in order to facilitate a sale of the club to some mysterious party. There was nothing solid ever in it and the rumors had named Gartside's destination as anywhere between Mumbai and Manila with no real answers on anything.
Today, a report from The Hindu has confirmed that Phil Gartside had indeed flown to asia but not to help sale Bolton Wanderers to an unnamed (possibly shadowy, maybe hiding in a parking garage) figure. No, Gartside was there to help set up a series of camps in a partnership with OCE Professional Education and Bolton Wanderers Football Club aimed at footballers between ages 9 and 23. The camps would identify talent and grant scholarships for players to take part in Bolton Wanderers' academy system.
Gartside, speaking to the Hindu, said:
"We have been offering similar programs in other countries for ten years. For India, we feel this is the right time. It has got a huge number of people with interest in football. It has traditionally been cricket, but we now see interest in football grow too.
"Through OCE we are proposing to encourage students to enjoy football with the benefit of having some education attached to it. Fifty to sixty per cent of the time it will be football. In addition we will teach them life skills, professionalism, diet, nutrition etc. It's about how to be a professional athlete as much as it is about playing football."
India, a nation of nearly 1.25 billion people, has had a torrid time with producing football talent throughout their history. The country's national side is currently ranked 155th in the world.
Speaking to the Times of India, Gartside elaborated further:
"At the moment we are talking upto a 100 this year. But they will be in batches of 20. We have about four batches lined up at the moment."
St Angelo's, an IT firm and a major player in the project, was represented by their study abroad Chairman and Managing director, Agnelo Rajesh Athaide who commented:
"We want to create excellent football opportunities for the youngsters, the school children, college kids and the corporates. We have a contract with them, which we will keep on extending. It is for five years at a go.
"We are going to have the talent hunt throughout the country starting tomorrow. Specifically we are going to target Goa, Mumbai, Pune, Kerala, West Bengal, Chennai. These are the six cities we are going to begin with.
"If you look at football now, it's a big commercial world. The bigger teams, and we are not one of them, they are looking at commercial advantage. We are not doing that. What we are trying to do is use football in a much more modest way for education and maybe find a footballer.
"If the student likes the taste of a 10-day programme then it encourages him to do the year long programme. We have a two year programme of international B-tech at level three. The benefit of that is he spends two years training as an athlete as well.
"If you look at what happened in UK, a lot of investments has gone into the grassroots through the National Game Board. The investment had gone into providing facilities. That is very important."
Whether this has any lasting benefit for the Trotters remains to be seen but it will be a long way down the road if anything.