In a country obsessed with cricket, often at the cost of other sports, Tata Tea begs to differ. Launched in 2007, the Tata Tea Jaago Re Soccer Stars initiative is a unique football talent scouting programme. Aiming to foster sports talent across the country, the programme involves identifying talented youngsters who then receive advanced coaching by some of the world’s best football coaches, from India and from internationally renowned clubs. After four successful seasons with the English football club Arsenal, the fifth season is seeing association with the renowned Italian football club Internazionale Milano, more popularly called Inter Milan.
The premise of this programme is simple. Children aged between 10 and 15 from 15 cities across the country are invited through their schools to participate in a mega-talent scouting tournament. As teams play against each other in zonal and national matches, talent scouts — including former national football players — observe the players and 35 of the most promising boys are chosen to be trained in India by local coaches and coaches from Inter Milan. The number is further funnelled down to 16 and these children get to travel to Milan for another leg of training. “But,” says Vikram Grover, vice president, marketing, Tata Global Beverages in India, “The primary objective of this programme is not to create a team that wins any tournament. The objective is to awaken football talent in this country and play a little role in grooming this talent.”
In contrast to the premise, the scale of this programme is simply enormous. The largest under-15 football tournament in India, Tata Tea Jaago Re Soccer Stars reached out to more than two million individuals (includes school children, school coaches, parents and followers on Facebook.) in its fourth season. Its fifth season saw participation from 1,100 schools in 15 cities, with a total of 6,500 children playing for a spot in the final squad. Many of the chosen children have gone on to achieve great heights in the game; among the most notable is Uttam Rai from the batch of 2009-2010, who is currently part of the Indian under-16 team. “The funnelling is a very difficult process,” comments Mr Grover, adding, “The coaches tell us that it is very emotional for the kids. Getting selected to be in the top 35 is a big thing and moving further into the top 16 is a very big thing.”
Football enjoys a large following in India, but the game is hobbled by the lack of training facilities and paucity of funds. The Tata Tea Jaago Re Soccer Stars is looking to address just these problems. By spotting young talent and exposing them to international-style coaching and facilities, the programme is grooming a whole generation of future football stars. Over the years, the programme has developed a huge following and has become an eagerly awaited annual event at the participating schools. It is a great opportunity for the boys and the exposure trip that follows the tournament is enthusiastically anticipated.
Mr Grover adds, “After participating in the programme, the schools notice a distinct change in the children. And for some of these boys, football has become a source of livelihood.” Many boys have gone on to join the Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur, which grooms youngsters for higher levels of professional football like local or national level clubs or the national football team. In addition to Uttam Rai, one of the most talented youngsters to be picked up in the programme, there are Biswajit Sardar (2008-09 and 2009-10 batches) and Nim Dorjee (2010-11 batch), who are both currently part of the India under-19 camp in Goa.
The champs from the Tata Tea Jaago Re Soccer Stars programme tasted international success in 2011 when they emerged successful in the under-15 category at the Arsenal International Soccer Festival. Over 126 teams from 12 different countries participated in the festival and the team from Tata Tea was the first Indian team ever to win this prestigious tournament.
With the success of Jaago Re, Tata Tea is now recognised as a thought leader in its category. Mr Grover says, “One of the chinks that we had in our armour was that in India, while we gained volume leadership in 2007, we have not been value leaders in this market. One of the consequences and impacts of this campaign has been that we are now established as leaders in the Indian market.” Jaago Re has kick-started a revolution of sorts in the sport of football in the country and its soaring popularity bears testimony to its immense success.