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FC Goa chief Akshay Tandon on why he thinks Indian sports is in its infancy

The football club co-owner explains that he’s a planner and how important it is to take the sport to the grassroots

Akshay Tandon, president and co-owner of FC Goa.
Akshay Tandon, president and co-owner of FC Goa.

Akshay Tandon stumbled into football. The president and co-owner of FC Goa, with a fitness tracker on his wrist and a tattooed forearm seems to fit the image of a young man heading an Indian Super League franchise. 

The son of an Indian Administrative Services officer, Tandon lived in many places as a child, including Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi, Mumbai and Scotland, before going to Boston to do his BBA in finance and entrepreneurship. He had tried his hand at consulting in Corporate Social Responsibility and at a marketing agency before he stumbled into his current job. Tandon had worked with the previous owners of FC Goa, so he helped his father-in-law Jaydev Mody’s Delta Group with the purchase of the football franchise in 2016. “They said, ‘You already know the league, the club and the brand… help out with the transition,’” recalls Tandon. “After 3-4 months, I found myself building the club from scratch and then I was named the club’s president in mid-2016.” 

The 36-year-old, who before FC Goa had no background in football except playing it on the Playstation and at school, is deeply inspired by Pep Guardiola’s book Another Way of Winning and is in awe of the Spaniard’s footballing philosophy. And that, perhaps, explains why the club’s coach, assistant coach, and strength and conditioning coach are all Spanish.     

Goa-based Tandon, who is a new parent to twin boys and also helps his wife Anjali Mody out in her furniture business, tells Lounge how he has taken inspiration from his friends and colleagues and thinks of some of them as his mentors, why he plans ahead for the whole month, and why he thinks that sports in India is still in its infancy.     

Who do you consider your mentor? 

Several people, including some friends. Riyaaz Amlani, the founder of Impresario Group of Restaurants, and Roshan Abbas, who runs a number of agencies.They have been clients and friends but also guides and mentors to me. Then there is Avinash Goel, an old friend who is a senior partner at McKinsey. 

One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance? 

I tend to take inspiration from and imitate some of the things that other people do that I think could benefit me. One of my early mentors told me to write down everything in every meeting and this is something that I still do. I don’t do it in meetings that I am leading but in meetings that I am sitting in, you know, so that it sets an example. 

Also read: India's football star Aditi Chauhan on the state of the women's game

What does being a mentor mean to you? 

The way that I mentor colleagues… I would say that I am pretty bad at it because I am actually very busy most of the time. I think the simple thing is to lead by example. I hope that people learn something from me when they observe me at work or how I conduct myself. 

Describe your morning schedule? 

I wake up between 6.45 am and 7.15 am and take a cold shower. Then I take my twin boys for a walk in the sun. This is almost all mornings. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are strength workouts at 8.30 am. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I try to go for a swim or a cycle ride. I am slowly trying to start training for a triathlon. After the workouts, regular work takes over. 

What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic? 

Just the discipline of being able to work from home is something that I learned during the pandemic. Before that I always found it very difficult to work sitting at home. 

Any book or podcast recommendations about mentorship and workplace growth? 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s the most real view about what it means to run a start-up or a company and minces no words and it just shows how truly hard it is, to run an organisation and build a company. That’s the one that I highly recommend. 

I subscribe to The Huberman Lab podcast, the neurobiological or biohacking podcast that discusses topics in terms of how to create the most productive version of yourself. 

What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal life?  

Life is not so easy if you take on things ad hoc. I plan my entire month, not just a day or a week, before the month begins. I try to think of a quarter in terms of travel, agendas and goals and have long-term, one-year or three-year plans, which helps plan the quarters wisely. This helps me stay sane and balance work and family life. It’s a lot of work and kids, and more work and kids. The kids part is very rewarding and I plan to give it the time it deserves. 

How serious is the business of sports in  India beyond cricket? 

Sports in India is still in its infancy. Cricket and IPL are seemingly mature, but they are also still figuring out how they are going to grow… a lot of that you can see from the Women’s Premier League.  

As far as football is concerned, we conducted a survey where we found that there were about 167 million people who consider themselves fans of Indian football. In terms of actual engagement and revenue we are at 2-3% of what the potential is. The sport is well below the numbers needed to run structured associations that run the entire sport in the country. 

In India, we try to come across as being more serious about sports than we actually are. We’re still quite unconvinced about sports. Very few people are able to pursue sports. The overall numbers are too small. For example, there are fewer football coaches in India than in Iceland. That shows how serious the country is about the sport right now.  

Cricket is a great source of entertainment and, perhaps, the only sport that has penetrated across the fabric of Indian society. Hopefully, that happens for other sports as well.  

Also read: Taking notes is underrated: Pankaj Jathar, Etsy

How important is grassroots football for the success of the sport in India? 

It’s not rocket science, we have to start at the grassroots. Children have to become familiar with the ball by the age of five. They need to start playing about 35 competitive games a year by the age of 5 or 6.  

For a country of nearly 1.4 billion, only a few handful of good programmes exist right now and that is nearly nothing. Grassroots football is important because without that a culture can’t be built. Our foundation launched Fields of Dreams earlier this year in partnership with Delta Group’s CSR initiative where we are working towards grassroots football development by making state of the art football grounds accessible and available to all. 

Also, governments need to support us and federations need to do the hard yards. Otherwise, we will continue seeing exceptional cases like in shooting and wrestling where talents sprout at random places thanks to well-functioning academies but that will be it. 

Without what the three pillars—coaching, competition and infrastructure—football, or any sport for that matter, cannot thrive. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor, and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness

Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.


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