Sudeva Delhi FC: The People’s Club

What happens when a lawyer and an engineer environmentalist start training kids as a side project? Give them seven years and you might just get an Indian football club with world-class facilities, European tie-ups and a pathway for juvenile kids. 

Sudeva Delhi FC is the brainchild of Anuj Gupta, a lawyer, and Vijay Hakari an environmentalist,  that initially started as a part time initiative to give the local kids training after school. Gupta, a central midfielder in his day, enjoyed guiding the kids and showcasing the beauty of the game to them. He then realised that this had the potential to grow. In 2014, they partnered with schools in order to get an understanding of the standard and mindset of the young players and their parents. 

Gupta, a solicitor from Shriram College of Commerce(who he led to victory as their football captain)  and Cardiff University, had gone on to establish a successful law firm, ANM Global Solicitors & Advocates. Armed with information and enthusiasm, he and Hakari pooled their savings to establish an 8-acre residential academy set up in Delhi. Despite initial concern and worry from their families Gupta and Hakari pursued their dream. In addition to their savings, they were able to get funding from Chevrolet as part of their Beautiful Possibilities Program in 2016. As their reputation grew, so did their sponsors as Puma and Stark Nutrition(among others) helped Sudeva upgrade its facilities. As the facilities and reputation grew, Sudeva was able to attract more players to their youth setup. Transforming the lower strata of both the urban and rural population, by giving a route of redemption and respect through football.

Academy Growth and European Collaborations

The goal of the academies was to not just to grow great footballers, but to grow great individuals and change lives through football. World-class players need world-class facilities. Sudeva has world-class facilities and staff who care for the physical and mental wellbeing of their players. After just 3 years of existence, Sudeva’s facilities were used as a base camp during the 2017 FIFA U-17 world cup. Sudeva then decided to expand their scouting base from Delhi, to a pan-India scouting system. From Kashmir to Manipur to Kerala. Initially, it was difficult to convince parents to send their kids across the country to an academy that had just started. Full scholarships were awarded in order to convince the parents. Currently, Sudeva has a reputation of world-class education and facilities, with about 70% of the students paying to attend the residential school. 

By 2017, Sudeva had a great record in the youth leagues from the ages U13-U18. The exposure of the U17 World Cup in India, led to Sudeva looking to collaborate with an European club. However, Sudeva did not want to just have a peripheral connection with a European club. Sudeva desired an exchange of ideas and personnel. Thus, they bought Spanish third Division side CD Olimpic de Xativa. This collaboration led Sudeva to even greater heights. Since then, Sudeva has produced players that have gone to represent India at youth levels. Sudeva has also had some players go to Spain to continue their careers. Taking players that have been overlooked and giving them a football career. Sudeva has gone on to make its debut in the I-league and finishing 8th in its debut season. All this in 7 years.

Sudeva is no ordinary club, that has not been on an ordinary journey. There is a fundamental difference between Sudeva and other football clubs. If they were the same, then everyone could possibly rise to the top in 7 years. What inspires such growth? Gupta says that his goal is not about winning matches, but about growing players. Sudeva has taken on the goal to eradicate poverty through sports. This is done specifically through selecting underprivileged kids and exposing them to world-class talent. Most clubs have the ambition of winning trophies, Sudeva aims higher. Sudeva has the aim of India qualifying for the 2030 FIFA World Cup with the help of Sudeva players. Sudeva aims to grow the football culture. Community growth over capital gains. This is extremely rare in football these days (think European Super League). 

The Sudeva Family

The goal is holistic growth. For many of their kids in their academy, this is their home. This is where they feel they belong, in the Sudeva family. Sudeva takes care of all their academy prospects. If one of the prospects is decided not to be good enough, they are instructed to study sports management, physical therapy etc. and they will be offered a job in the Sudeva ecosystem. Quite a few of the current staff were once Sudeva academy prospects. This is what a true football club is. We have seen football clubs turn into franchises. Fans turn into customers. Sudeva is giving football back to the people.

Sudeva’s work does not end there.The club has a completely holistic approach to everything they do. Sudeva also has a juvenile program. Where coaches and trainers go to juvenile facilities and play football with the kids. The kids are in the juvenile centre for various reasons from pickpocketing to substance abuse amongst other things. The kids are mischievous, but they are also intelligent. Most importantly, the kids are loved. Coaches offer to do this service for Sudeva for free. The coaches realise the power of football to change lives. Some of the coaches are a product of this juvenile program, and this enables the kids to see that their life can turn around. It gives them hope. More often than not, these children do not have a positive adult influence in their lives and are led astray. Sudeva provides an outlet and guidance for their life and communities to grow. After all, the goal is growth. If the kids are good enough, they are encouraged and supported in pursuing football as a career. If they are not, they are given equal attention, love and guidance.

Perhaps, we can learn from Sudeva and realise that our human purpose is not in capital gain but in community growth. That our value is not derived from what we achieve but how we impact those around us. 

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