KOCHI: The sheer simplicity of football is what makes it the beautiful game and the most popular sport in the world. Its biggest superstars, including Pele, Diego Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo, have all climbed the ladders of greatness and fame starting from humble beginnings.
So, perhaps, it is no wonder that many of football's success stories have simple starts -- just like the Sacred Heart Football Academy in the city that provides aspiring footballers with a platform to fulfil their dreams.
The academy, which started out as a summer camp to teach basics of football, was an initiative of Sacred Heart College, Thevara management.
It was inaugurated in 1997 by former Indian international footballer O Chandrasekharan, who represented the country in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. As the camp proved an instant hit, an academy was set up where footballers received regular coaching along with accommodation and education at SH School and College.
Over the years, the academy has produced a number of state and national players. Their secret? Training the youngsters with modern techniques and tactics as well as giving them physical and psychological conditioning. Just like every summer, this year also, around 120 students have joined the academy for the summer camp which takes place between 7 am and 9 am every day at the picturesque SH College Ground.
C C Jacob, former India international who was instrumental in starting the academy, said it is the professionalism that has set the academy apart.
"We divide children into categories according to their age and give them regular and professional coaching which enables them to excel both in academics and the game," Jacob said. The academy functions with children aged between six and 23. They also provide personality development classes after practice every day.
"Practice matches are played every day helping them to improve their game-intelligence, to handle tough situations properly and to make them familiar with the game," said coach Ravindran K, who is an AFC certified coach and AIFF match commissioner.
"The players will be taught good sportsmanship and the importance of team play. We believe that the success of this venture is measured by excellence not just on the field, but also off it," he said.
The college is planning to provide a gym for the academy by the end of the academic year. Akhil Joseph was the first player from the academy to play for India in the U-14 category. Abhishek Joshy, Kent Joseph, Akshay Joshy and Muhammad Hasil are others who have represented India.
"I did not get enough facilities to improve my game in Lakshadweep. I have learned new techniques and strategies here which I would have never learned from my native place," said Mohammad Aiman, a 14-year-old from Lakshadweep.
"We are committed to developing our children into technical players with a strong understanding of the game and at the same time teaching the fundamentals of teamwork and sportsmanship," said KA Raju, head of physical education at SH College.