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French lured by football...

French football is looking for a Calcutta connect, after Bayern Munich gave Oliver Kahn his emotional farewell in the city in front of 150,000 delirious fans and AC Milan brought its youth team under current senior manager Leonardo.

Representatives of all 20 clubs from Ligue 1, the top division in French football, could be in Calcutta next year as part of a soccer roadshow planned across a few Indian cities.

The aim is to study the game’s structure and profile here, and scout for Indian partners to develop and grow the brand of football in these cities through programmed professional inputs.

“The whole of Europe is waking up to the huge marketing potential football presents in a vast country like India. Mediaghat, a sports promotion company based in Paris and Bangalore, is working on a programme to bring top officials of leading French football clubs to India,” Jean Leviol, the minister counsellor for economic and financial affairs (head, India and South Asia) in the French embassy in India, told Metro on Thursday.

Leviol, a keen footballer himself in his youth, elaborated that the proposed 10-day football roadshow in 2010 was the brainchild of Stéphane Audry, the former commercial and marketing manager of Le Tour de France, who is now concentrating on football with his company Mediaghat.

“This is extremely encouraging news for Calcutta football if this trip by Ligue 1 club officials materialises, because it could throw open the door for a clutch of value-added exchange programmes across various levels,” said Utpal Ganguly, the secretary of the Indian Football Association, which runs the game in the city.

Mediaghat is setting up operational and consulting projects in football and tennis infrastructure and media to “take this potential sporting giant to the next level”, according to its website. Mediaghat India provides cross-border and on-the-ground support from its regional office in Bangalore and its headquarters in Paris.

“Yes, there are many French institutions, sports companies and teams looking for strategic partnerships with Indian counterparts to try and unlock the huge potential of the Indian market,” agreed Jean-Louis Rysto, the consul-general of France and head of the economic mission in Calcutta.

Rysto, a lower-league goalkeeper in France during his younger days, is himself trying to steer Zinedine Zidane to Calcutta sometime soon, and has approached the former manager of the French national team, Aimé Jacquet, “a close friend”, for this, besides sounding out the star’s sponsors Danone.

Leviol, who along with Rysto and economic counsellor Francis Bouquin, met the heads of French enterprises in Bengal, added that the thrust of cooperation with the state would be on sustainable development and climate-change issues, agriculture and food-processing.

This will be supplemented by projects in infrastructure including power (both hydel and civilian nuclear), water treatment, waste management and urban transportation.

Over 120,000 Indians are employed in French enterprises in India and Bengal accounts for around 5,000 of them, working in 30-odd French firms present in the state.

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