Indian football got a French toast of the footballing kind with former Indian footballer and manager Eric Benny partnering with a Ligue 1 FC Metz, a talent nurturing club in France. Albiet, a small ripple in the billion ocean of India, the man who has in the past represented India at the Asian Games 2010 and for the Olympic Qualifiers 2011 as the manager of the national team, Benny is a believer of the beautiful game and aspires to change India’s languishing rating in world football while helping the youth get a foundation.
In the city to scout for talent, Eric was busy dissecting the keepie-uppies and technical skills at XLR8. “Nobody in the history of Indian football has been able to accomplish this. We are partnering with FC Metz and this is a lifetime opportunity,” explains the man who regards the father of French football as his mentor, saying, “He is the man behind the brilliance of Eric Cantona. My interactions with him are grounded and focused on football and nurturing talent. He has unique experience. The most intriguing aspect is that he is always there to help and support me, I feel blessed.”
Known for his coaching style with Palian Arrows, an I- League outfit, he now scouts the Indian heartland for the next generation of footballers. He looks deeper into the whys of our lack of footballing accolades. “Footballing is a way of life in Europe — it starts in school and we want to give the boys a cultural, technical, mental and analytical experience with the French club,” he explains, an objective that spearheads Eric Benny Sports Management too. That apart, the Eric Benny Foundation aims to help the lesser privileged explore and learn about the beautiful game. It’s been four-and-a-half years since FC Metz opened its gates to India, and Eric is thrilled at the first batch graduating in August — a boy is already in an Ivy League Club on a 90 per cent scholarship. Benny has travelled to Europe and learnt from the best, “One of the most memorable moments was meeting Robert Pires, the Arsenal legend who’s career started at FC Metz — The interactions with Pires were inspiring and thought-provoking. He is the most humble and accomplished player, and managed to touch my ‘football’ soul,” recalls Eric who brushes away his past footballing career saying that it was nothing but a training ground for the work he has cut out — which in itself is a gargantuan task.
FC Metz has produced players such as Franck Ribery, Robert Pires, Emmanuel Adebayor, Louis Saha, etc. “Adebayor to Louis Saha, they have taught me about the game,” adds Benny. Today, he scouts for talent and he feels, “I intend to start a Youtube channel for these youngsters so I can share my knowledge and experience.” An adventure lover, Eric chills out with his son on camping trips or expeditions and loves taking road trips. Indian football lies between a rock and a hard place, and Eric agrees, hoping that his programme will instill belief. “The nine Indian players are living their dream alongside excelling in studies.
The primary goal is to create brand ambassadors for Indian football. If you believe in your dreams then work on it. Anything is possible.” Which is a way forward alright, but if only there were more such initiatives for the Indian footballer to flourish.