In a major blow to football in Mumbai, Mahindra United Football Club will be disbanded at the end of current I-League season, the parent company shifting its focus towards developing talent at school level.
"We have decided to get out of competitive soccer and get into grassroots soccer at schools level. This means at the end of the I-League we would not be taking part in any competitive soccer but training school kids to make them better prospects in soccer," said the club's Chairman Alan Durante on Friday.
Ruzbeh Irani, Executive Vice-President Corporate Strategy, M&M Ltd, said the decision to get out of competitive football after so many years, first as Mahindra and Mahindra Sports Club and then from 1991 as Mahindra United FC, was in line with the Group's "philosophy and shift in focus from taking part in professional sport to developing it".
"We feel we can make a much bigger difference to sport in India at the schools level in soccer and grassroots level in basketball (after associating with National Basketball Association of USA in Mahindra NBA Challenge), than by running one professional team," he added.
Durante said the contracts of 98 per cent of the current lot of professional footballers would be over by the end of May or June 2010.
Mahindra Group MD and vice-chairman Anand Mahindra said in a statement that the company is sure the decision to bring closure to a successful pro football team to focus their energies and efforts in training young footballers "would go a long way in giving the sport the fillip it needs in India".
"Mahindra United has been an integral part of our legacy and journey in football. We are proud of our team the players, support staff and management -- who have brought both Mahindra United and Brand Mahindra success and respect," he said.
Mahindra United were a very successful team, having won the National Football League pennant in 2005, as well as the IFA Shield, Durand Cup, Federation Cup and Super Cup during its reign as one of the top teams in the country.
The decision to wind up the football club, which is currently second in the I-League's standing, behind leaders Dempo of Goa, was conveyed to the players and support staff on Friday, Durante said.
Asked about the new initiative to develop football at school level all over the country, Irani said, "It's a work in progress and will start in a couple of months' time."