FORMER MANCHESTER UNITED players Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole are optimistic about Indian football, whether it's youth development or attracting pre-season visits from Premier League clubs and other globally popular teams.
The former Trinidad & Tobago and England internationals were chatting with Indian media representatives at ApolloXSports Presents Matchday With Yorkie, a web-based interactive event hosted by Khuri Irani Khan.
The two United veteran attackers, who both started for the Reds at the iconic UEFA Champions League final of 1998-99 against Bayern Munich where after staying a goal down all game United scored two goals in added time to win the UCL, were inevitably asked about that magical night and they reminisced about its significance in the history of the club. Andy Cole said,
"It was a great feeling... something like that you'll treasure for the rest of your life. To this day, you know, you're still talking about it. It's twenty-odd years on, and people are still talking about what we've done in 1999. It's a feeling that you'll never forget."
Dwight Yorke agreed with his former striking partner,
"These are things in your life that don't come along very often as a player. We've been able to do that and twenty years later we're still talking about it. It's a historical moment. It's arguably the biggest football club in the world; to be part of that historical moment for Manchester United Football Club, it speaks volumes for itself. So the achievement in itself, it's a great thing... something we'll all cherish, be a part of and be remembered for."
Talking about Indian football, both were optimistic about the way the sport is growing in this country. When TFG asked them about major European clubs paying visit to India for pre-season friendlies (a la Bayern Munich who played Mohun Bagan at Salt Lake Stadium in front of 120,000 fans), Yorke said,
"It doesn't come as a surprise that teams are branching out to reach new fans. With India being one of the biggest populations out there, I can see why a lot of teams invested and want to reach out to India now, to reach fans they haven't been able to reach before. So with the [Indian Super League] going as it is going and it's been able to attract all these players, it's not surprising that the likes of Bayern as I said is looking to come out there and hopefully United will follow. Because without a doubt we know that we have the biggest fanbase in India... the likes of Liverpool and all these big teams are looking to make inroads into one of where the biggest fanbases are and India is one of those big places. I expect United to follow suit and it won't be surprising to see others follow along the way."
Host Khuri Irani Khan asked the two about the pan-India initiative called 'United We Play' that's been launched by Apollo Tyres and Manchester United to promote youth football, Andy Cole spoke about how such initiatives help create new fanbases and talented players for the sport,
"I'm not sure that football will rival cricket in India. For it to rival cricket it's gonna have to go some way. But football, it's a great opportunity. It's a good opportunity, obviously, for kids who wanna play football. It's a great option away from cricket. So I believe it's a real great thing to do over there."
Dwight Yorke pointed out how such youth football programmes are important to Manchester United, and how along with other efforts to grow the sport they have an impact on the lives of the communities they touch,
"United has always based on academies as well, to bring young players and giving young players an opportunity. We've seen football on the rise in India, you've hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup. So it shows football is moving on the right direction in India and it's good that teams, Apollo and the big companies are getting out in communities, lending their support in terms of encouragement and giving them an opportunity to play the game or understand the game and reach out to the less fortunate people. So it's very important, that type of work is something that us at United and have always had at the top of our agenda, to make sure that we continue to give back into the communities and the less fortunate out there. I embrace that type of stuff and I hope it continues to encourage the young people of the generation in India to play the game or pick up the sport, and gives them equal opportunities like how cricket gives an opportunity in that country."
The Matchday With Yorkie web show is now a regular part of pre-match build up for Manchester United games for the club's Indian fans. It attracts fans from across the country who get to talk to Yorke and other esteemed guests and it has emerged as a virtual substitute to the in-person events before major games that many of the major global clubs organize in India.