He has been the face of Indian football for over a decade, and Bhaichung Bhutia now wants to use that to develop football at the grass-roots level in a country that sorely needs it. India’s football captain launched the Bhaichung Bhutia Football School in New Delhi on 30 October in partnership with former Real Madrid and Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz’s football academy. Bhutia spoke about the project and his future plans. Edited excerpts:

You’ve been planning to open an academy for quite some time now. How did this project take off?

Change agent: Bhutia feels it’s the right time for him to get into developing the sport. Ankit Agrawal/Mint

How will this partnership work? What kind of inputs will you get from Queiroz’s academy?

The training programme is entirely designed by them, because they are up-to-date with what the best academies around the world are teaching. Two coaches from Queiroz’s academy will now work at my school for a year. They will help set it up, put the programme in place and train the Indian coaches we have started hiring. We’ll hire 10 Indian coaches to begin with. I will be at the school as many times as I can between my national and club commitments. The first centre will operate out of Ryan International School (Delhi), and then, in the next five years, we plan to spread to five-six cities (the school will sustain on student fees and some sponsors). We will target over 10,000 children. Also, 30% of the children will be from underprivileged backgrounds. They will be trained for free, and we will also give them the required kit. A few NGOs like Magic Bus will identify these children for us.

How far can someone who wants to become a professional footballer go in your school?

It’s a school, not an academy, but anyone between the age of 8-16 can join. Every batch will have to attend three classes of about 2 hours duration a week. If we spot someone with fantastic talent, we will first teach them as much of the basics as we can. Then if he wants to turn professional, we can guide him to the various football academies run by the big clubs or to the Tata Football Academy (Jamshedpur). We will help in getting these kind of talented players admission to the academies. Also, I’ll be starting my own academy (where training will be given to selected students with the aim of turning them into professional footballers) as well. My land application is already under process. I’ve applied for land in Sikkim and Kolkata. As soon as I get a sponsor, I’ll start it.

So you are now seriously committed to developing football?

I’m nearing the end of my football career. I’ve built many contacts, I’ve got lots of experience, so this was the right time to do it. I could have started earlier, but it’s never too late. I will train and develop young footballers full-time once I’m out of active football. The lack of good grass-roots training and infrastructure has been one of the key reasons for India’s failure to become a strong footballing nation, and hopefully that can change.