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Leicester link with East Bengal

February 04, 2004 20:08 IST

Leicester City have signed ground-breaking agreements with India's soccer federation and league champions which will bring top Indian players to the English Premier League club.

The city of Leicester, in central England, has the largest Indian population in England and Wales.

"As part of a campaign to forge closer links with the Asian community in Leicestershire county and abroad, the Foxes have officially twinned with Indian soccer champions Kingfisher East Bengal FC and signed a partnership agreement with the All India Football Federation," Leicester said.

"These agreements will open the doors to a wide range of footballing and commercial benefits for all parties and promote the name of Leicester City throughout the Asian subcontinent."

Top Indian club and national players will be coached at Leicester, who were promoted from the first division last season and are 18th in the 20-team Premier League.

East Bengal will play a friendly later in the season against Leicester and members of the English club's training staff will co-ordinate coaching programmes in India.

"This is an ideal opportunity for Indian football, especially the training and development of youth players," said federation honorary secretary Alberto Colacao.

The clubs stressed the marketing, sponsorship and franchising possibilities opened up by their three-year deal.

"We found East Bengal the most successful and progressive Indian club and we are very excited about this tie-up," Leicester's chief operating officer Paul Mace said.

"It (the deal) will be far more attractive for Leicester than other premiership clubs because of Leicester's ethnic diversity."

LUCRATIVE MARKET

European clubs view Asia as a lucrative and underdeveloped market. Spanish champions Real Madrid toured Asian countries before the current season and there has been a trickle of players from Japan, South Korea and China into European leagues.

India's most famous player and national team captain Baichung Bhutia was the first Indian to play in England when he signed with Bury, then in the second division, in September 1999 after trials with several clubs including Aston Villa.

He returned to India in 2002 and plays for Calcutta-based East Bengal. The team are South East Asian champions and have won the Indian title twice in the last three years.

The club have a huge following among millions of fans in the soccer-mad West Bengal state, many of whom were refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh in the early 1970s.

East Bengal's ground is mainly made up of temporary stands. All major games involving East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, an equally popular Calcutta-based club, are played at the city's main venue which has a capacity of more than 100,000.

A record 130,000 fans witnessed a domestic game at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan stadium involving East Bengal.


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