Why Sheffield United's sister club in India - Kerala United - are proud to be associated with Bramall Lane
Shabeer Mannaril, the chief executive officer of Sheffield United’s sister club in India, has outlined how it plans to become a major player on the subcontinent’s sporting scene and potentially create opportunities for officials at Bramall Lane to exploit.
Tasked with overseeing the day to day operations of Kerala United, who are based in the southern city of Malappuram, Mannaril explained the state’s love of football - which even supersedes cricket in the public’s consciousness - made it the ideal location for arguably the most intriguing start-up project on the United World portfolio.
Describing itself as a specialist sports management company and ultimately designed to circumnavigate some of the issues caused by Brexit, UW also has Beerschot, Chateauroux, Al-Hilal United and of course United themselves under its banner.
“Football is the most popular sport in Kerala, whereas other states prefer cricket,” Mannaril told The Star, confirming why it was chosen as the site of UW’s foray into the world’s most populous democracy. “Everyone in Kerala plays football in their youth.
“There are historic reasons for this, dating back around 100 years when the British military and other officials were camping in various different areas, especially in the north of the state, and playing football on mud grounds.
“They invited the local people to join their teams. Moreover, football is not a technically complicated game like cricket, so it was very easy for people to understand, pick up and play. To begin with, seven-a-side was the most popular format but then 11-a-side became the norm.”
Kerala’s love affair with the beautiful game is best showcased by the size of the crowds which attend games. It’s representatives in the Indian Super League, Kerala Blasters, are one of the best supported clubs in Asia. The Kerala Premier League, the competition Kerala United are competing in, also draws big attendances.
“In the short term, we want to win the division and then be elected to the I League (which coexists with the ISL) second division,” Mannaril said. “Our medium term vision, we would like to establish youth and women’s teams to take part in their respective leagues, become established in the region’s football community development activities and bring new faces and talents through the system.”
“In the long term,” he continued, “We want to reach the top top tier of the Indian League and become the best team in Kerala.”
Mannaril, who previously worked for Al-Hilal United in Dubai, believes being part of the UW project can accelerate Kerala United’s progress. Abdullah Alghamdi, the chief executive of UW as a whole, revealed earlier this year that United and Beerschot have recently attracted a flood of new social media followers from India as a result of their relationship with Kerala United. Transforming this new-found popularity in Asia into something tangible for both is the next big challenge - as well as ensuring Kerala United continue their positive start to the new campaign.
“In Indian football, our connection to big clubs from Europe gives us extra mileage in terms of our reputation,” Mannaril said. “The Indian government and football authorities warmly welcome such associations, which will definitely uplift the quality of football in India. The players and fans are really amazed to see our connections with our sister clubs.”