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'A Messi from Madras': Freshworks founder Girish Mathrubootham builds Rs 100-crore football academy

The 23-acre facility has southeast Asia’s first hybrid football pitch, a functional strength and conditioning centre, medical and recovery facilities, a swimming pool, a school, and a hostel

March 19, 2023 / 02:02 PM IST
Home of FC Madras football academy.

Home of FC Madras football academy.

What made SaaS firm Freshworks’ founder Girish Mathrubootham fall in love with football so much that he created a dream football academy for young kids?

“Like many parents, I took my son to play football in a ground in Adyar (a locality in Chennai), where 60-80 kids were packed into one muddy ground with no grass.  At the same time, when I would travel to the US I’d see excellent facilities in schools and neighbourhoods,” said Mathrubootham.

“India has got a lot of talent. I went to Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar College of Engineering (SSN) to watch a children’s football match and saw so much talent, parents were equally enthusiastic seeing their kids play. This inspired me to build a world-class facility to further nurture the budding talent in India," he added.

This pushed Mathrubootham to build a football academy for Rs 100 crore in Mahabalipuram, which has been christened the Home of FC Madras

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“Our vision is to create a Messi from Madras. India has got footballing talent but lacks the infrastructure to support the players. I want to invest in something I believe will help produce many international players,” Mathrubootham said.

The entire 23-acre facility is built to FIFA standards and those specified by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The logo of the academy features the palm squirrel, which represents agility, strength, and vision.

Mathrubootham has tapped the generative AI platform ChatGPT to help name the facilities inside the academy.

“We wanted to feature an animal that represents both the country and the players, and the palm squirrel was the best choice. When our designer pitched this, I immediately put it on ChatGPT to check for squirrel-themed hostels and cafes. That’s how Almond Learning Centre, Squirrel’s Splash, Acorn café, and Scamper Park came into existence,” Mathrubootham said.

The facility has southeast Asia’s first hybrid pitch, a functional strength and conditioning centre, medical and recovery facilities, a swimming pool, and a hostel.

Apart from football training for the under-13 and under-15 age groups, the academy also has an alternative learning centre, which follows the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) curriculum.

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“We want to train students and send them for national and international competitions. However, simultaneously we also offer education,” he added.

The academy has chosen 50 students out of 2,000 children scouted from across India. These children will receive a scholarship for football training, which will cover everything, from accommodation and training to all meals.

Talking about the sustainability of the academy, Mathrubootham said while the children will receive the training for free, there are ways the facility can be monetised.

“As per our estimates, it would take around $1 million per year to run the facility. So we are also setting up the FC Madras Charitable Trust, donations to which will be eligible for tax deductions under section 80 G of the Income Tax Act. The team will also conduct summer camps and weekend programmes, and the facility will be open to corporates for off-sites to help bring in additional revenue,” he said.

Abhishek Yadav, former Deputy General Secretary of the All India Football Federation and the former captain of the national football team, has been appointed the CEO of FC Madras, and Venkatesh Shanmugam, also a former captain of the Indian football team, has been named the technical director. CN Narayana is the director of education and life skills.

Dhananjai CKM, who currently heads the data and performance division of Mumbai Indians (an Indian Premier League team) has been appointed the director of sports and governance.

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Bhavya Dilipkumar