'As a football club Man City still has a lot to achieve'
Former Manchester City goalkeeper Alex Williams, who is in India to help young footballers improve their technical skills, gets nostalgic about his former club talking to Bikash Mohapatra
A Premier League club coming to Indian shores to hold a clinic. Yet another of those gimmicks, one may say.
With interest in the world’s biggest football league increasing manifold in the last few years, many English Premier League clubs have come to India to forge strategic partnerships and build their brands further, without exactly helping Indian football.
However, to their credit, those concerned with Manchester City, the most recent entrants, are more realistic.
"We have been here for just a week. So it is very difficult to comment on the state of Indian football without fully understanding the state of affairs," said City’s Community Ambassador Alex Williams, in a matter-of-fact tone, on the sidelines of one such clinic.
"But what we do see is a bunch of very exciting kids. So we have hopefully given them some experience that will form part of their overall development," he added.
Image: Alex Williams
'We aren't just here for a clinic but as part of a partnership'
The 52-year-old former goalkeeper, who played 125 games for the Eastlands club, insists it is a different endeavour.
"This is quite a unique one because we aren’t just here for a soccer clinic but as part of a really strong partnership," said Williams, elaborating on the strategic partnership between Etihad Airways, the main partner of City, and Jet Airways, in which the former have picked up a stake, that ensured the other Manchester club’s first coaching initiative in India.
"Some clubs have come in the past as standalone. And I think that’s the big difference," he added.
For someone who played at City when the club was in transition, following the initial phase of success in the 1970s, Williams is very pragmatic in his comparison.
"My years with City were very up and down," he said, the matter-of-fact tone intact.
"In the days I played with City we didn’t have the money that is there now and most of the players were local lads," he continued, adding, "They were good players but not the quality of a Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure or David Silva.
"So we were always struggling to be in what was then the old First Division/Premier League. We had some great moments, but many forgettable ones."
Image: The Man City coaching team trains the kids
'Expectations from Man City is fine''
Considering those dark days are well behind, following the infusion of money first from former Thailand Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra and then the Abu Dhabi United Group, the expectations from the club have increased manifold. And so has the impatience.
While Shinawatra did not hesitate to do away with eminent coach Sven-Goran Eriksson even after the Swede had led them to a best-ever Premier League finish, the Abu Dhabi Group did not give Roberto Mancini a second chance despite the Italian leading them to a first title in 35 years (the FA Cup in 2011) followed by a maiden Premier League title (2012).
"If somebody takes up the ownership of a football club they will have some plan or strategy of where they want the club to be," explained Williams, justifying the stance of the owners.
"The expectation is fine. And it’s certainly up to the owners to make the decisions."
Image: Alex Williams
'There's a lot to achieve for Man City'
The former player is ecstatic about his club’s recent success.
"It’s (the success) absolutely fantastic, because it not only helps to develop the brand of Manchester City Football Club but also ensures the various strategic partnerships that help the club in the long run," he reasoned, hastening to add, this is the beginning of a fresh chapter in the Eastland club's history.
"I think, as a football club, we are just about starting. There’s a lot to achieve. It’s not just about the first team but also our academy, to develop home grown players who represent the club in the years to come.
"The club has already built a fantastic training facility and is moving forward in the right direction."
With Manuel Pellegrini at the helm, City are undefeated at home this season and very much in track for a second Premier League title. However, Williams is non-committal when asked where he sees his club finishing this season.
"I'm not sure about the position, as the Premier League is very competitive these days, but we will definitely finish among the top four!"
Image: Alex Williams