Football is the most popular sport in the world. It is increasingly popular in India, as evidenced by the creation of the Indian Super League in 2014, it interests more and more Indians every day and is already positioned as the second most played sport after cricket. Pradeep TILLAI seized this growth opportunity in 2016 by creating CITY 5 in the heart of Pondicherry.
The story begins in August 2016, when Pradeep TILLAI, a Franco-Indian entrepreneur, decided to make his dream come true: to set up the first 5-a-side Football Complex in the heart of Pondicherry, the CITY 5 Football Club. The objective was clear but not easy: to encourage the practice of football in India by making the discipline more accessible and entertaining, while offering quality a facility. The entrepreneur had to face two major problems: the domination of cricket in India and the importance given to studies in India, which leaves little room for extracurricular activities.
However, only 4 years after its creation, the CITY 5 is now a respected Football Academy with nearly 200 licensees in India and in France. The structure is composed of senior teams (male and female) and a football school dedicated to young players from 5 to 18 years old. The club brings a professionalism that is rare in India, in fact, the three coaches of the structure have Coaching Licenses delivered by All India Football Federation.
Since its launch, the reputation of this club has been growing all over India and in France where a competitive team is in place in Paris.
II- CITY 5 Team in France
In April 2018, the project takes on a whole new dimension. At this time, Pradeep Tillai met Cédric Leroy, a French coach certified by the French Football Federation and a great enthusiast of India. The former coach of the Indian National team at the “Homeless World Cup 2017”. teamed up with the Franco-Pondicherian entrepreneur to form a selection composed of French-Indian players based in Paris and Indian players coming directly from India.
In July 2018, the selection represented India at the “Mondial de France”, a 7-a-side World Cup which took place in Versailles at the same time as the real FIFA World Cup.
The team finished brilliantly in 5th place, which earned them several articles in the press (Times of India, The Hindu) and an invitation to the “Russia Night Show” broadcast on BeIN Sports with the presence of Arsene Wenger.
The other highlight of the event was the arrival of Vinaya Seshan, a 16-year-old gifted Indian girl, that guarded the team’s goal. She was the only female player in the tournament and her phenomenal performance earned her the interest of PSG’s women’s recruitment team for a tryout.
III- Pondicherry Speaks French
To continue to grow, CITY 5 decided to create the Futsal Association of Pondicherry in January 2019. Affiliated to prestigious entities such as FAI (Futsal Association of India), AMF (World Futsal Association) and CAF (Confederation of Futsal Association), the team was able to participate for the first time in its history in the National Futsal Championship which took place in Kochi.
Pondicherry is a former French colony and continues to perpetuate its history with France through football. Indeed CITY 5 and the Futsal Association of Pondicherry have a large number of French employees and players. In addition, the two entities have forged a privileged partnership with the Guyancourt Futsal Club in France. A collaboration materialized by the presence of the Guyancourt Club coaches (Cédric Leroy and Diez Glai) at the head of the Pondicherry Team.
The Pondicherry Association operates with a French know-how which benefits the whole team of the State of Pondicherry. Indeed, in only two months, the association was born and surrounded itself with many sponsors (including the famous American beer brand Budweiser) to help it achieve its dream of a national title. On top of that, the team is supported in France by the entire Indian community who have been able to follow their team’s exploits live on Facebook during the broadcasting of the matches during the National Tournament.
This journey was transformed into a legendary story as the Pondicherry Futsal team was crowned Champion of India after a fantastic run. The popularity of football in India continues to grow and thanks to this, this feat, which a few years ago would have gone unnoticed, was talked about a lot in India. Indeed, their victory was massively relayed through various channels (newspapers, radio, TV, social networks …).
IV- The Futsal World Cup in Nantes, France
This victory, which none thought possible, gave rise to great ambitions in the minds of its leaders. Indeed, Pondicherry now wanted to conquer an international title. As Indian Champion, the Pondicherry team represented India at the 2019 Mondial de Futsal (World Futsal Championship) held in Nantes. This tournament, which is very important in the world of futsal, brings together some of the best teams in the world such as Inter Fútbol Sala, 6-time winner of the Futsal Champions League.
Pondicherry State Team mainly composed of CITY 5 players had the opportunity to challenge the Runner-Up of the French League, Nantes Metropole Futsal, winner of the Mondial de Futsal beating in Final Inter Fútbol Sala and his star player, Ricardinho, who has earned the honor of best futsal player in the world 6 times. All of this might have been unimaginable before the creation of the Futsal Association of Pondicherry but by then Pondicherry players dreams were becoming reality.
With the Indian champions having clinched their first national title just a few months earlier, the players, led by their captain Gnana Colas, had the opportunity to perform on the international stage. The mission was not going to be so simple, given the very high level of competition, but the determination of the team was unwavering.
The players started off with a win, but the next stage became more difficult with a series of tough matches.
It is with their heads held high that the Indian champions came out of the competition by finishing 18th out of 32 teams. We saw a very beautiful symbiosis between the Franco-Indian and Indian players, who had little time together to prepare for this competition. Two key matches will remain in our memories of the tournament, the most memorable being against the winner of the tournament, Nantes Metropole Futsal, conceding only one goal at the end of the match.
Even though the disappointment could be read on the players’ faces, their defeat became their motivation. It hit its peak in the dressing room as they vowed to win their second national title, in a few months time in Maharashtra, which has never happened in the history of the Indian National Championship. The CITY 5 club put all their efforts into making sure the competition goes as smoothly as possible by securing major sponsors Budweiser and SIX5SIX, the first of its kind in Indian Futsal. Internally, the objective is clear: to win the competition for a second consecutive year.
V- India’s ‘Footballing Hopefuls’ Enter the Fray
The Pondicherry (CITY 5) U15 team, led by the captain of the Senior team of Pondicherry, showed their extreme talent and determination at the Futsal National Championship in Pune. After being undefeated in the group phase, the players were very close to getting their first national title.They were able to make it all the way to the final match against Tamil Nadu. It was a spectacular match between the two teams and an all-out scoring rampage on both sides, ending in a 6-6 draw, with only penalties to decide the winner.
In view of their performances, five players were able to claim a place to defend their country’s colors at the next World Cup, which will be held in Paraguay.
On this list, we had the best player and scorer of the tournament, Esteban, who exploded the records with 19 goals in 6 games. The other players that were given this honor were Kishore (team captain), Nish, Darshan, Arya. The club’s manager had high praises for their great performance: “I am incredibly proud of the way our players represented Pondicherry and everything they were able to achieve…”. said Pradeep TILLAI, Secretary General of the Futsal Association of Pondicherry and owner of the CITY 5 Football Club.
VI- Self Made
Since the creation of CITY 5, the founder has had to be very bold to move things forward. Neither the club nor the association has received any help from the state and all projects have been self-financed. However, this did not prevent them from carrying out the various projects by approaching sponsors and using alternative means of financing (crowdfunding, fundraising evening). There is indeed a Football Federation in Pondicherry, which has been in place for decades. However, it does nothing for the local clubs and has never won anything. Now, CITY 5 and the Futsal Association of Pondicherry are gaining the attention of the Football Federation with the national title, the structured organization, and above all a contagious passion.
In order to gain notoriety and give a whole new dimension to the project, Pradeep TILLAI did not hesitate to contact public figures from the world of football: Bernard Mendy (former PSG player and coach of the PSG women’s team), Vikash Dhorasoo (former PSG and AC Milan player), Cedric Hengbart (Former AJ Auxerre and Kerala Blaster players), Djibril Cisse (Former Marseille and Liverpool player) and Kevin Ramirez (star of French futsal).
Today Bernard Mendy has become the official ambassador of the CITY 5 Football Club in France and is fully committed to future projects.
As for Kevin Ramirez, he is the ambassador of the Futsal Association of Pondicherry.
Despite the difficulties encountered, the Pondicherry team takes pride in contributing to the development of football in India. In just four years, this team has made an entire state proud through football, and that was not a foregone conclusion.