English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers plan to establish a youth academy in India, its owners have said ahead of the club's pre-season tour of the sub-continent. The managing director of Indian poultry giant Venky's, which bought the Ewood Park side in November last year, told The Indian Express newspaper the club was planning a centre of excellence near Pune which is 100km (60 miles) from Mumbai.
"We are getting an academy and a stadium in Pune," Venky's B. Balaji Rao was quoted as saying. "The site is near the Mumbai-Pune highway and will be ready in a year-and-a-half or two years." Rao said the academy, on the outskirts of the city, will be run exactly like a Rovers' training centre at Brockhall in northwest England, taking players from the age of 11 and 12.
The academy members, to be chosen from the finals of a youth tournament to be held later this month, would form the basis of an Indian side that will play under the name Blackburn Rovers FC Pune, he added. Rao was not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP, his spokesman said.
Blackburn manager Steve Kean said in April that the club would visit India as part of an Asian tour. Brazilian outfit Flamengo have been touted as possible opponents and a final decision is expected later this week. From India, Blackburn will head to Hong Kong to play in the Premier League Asia Trophy at the end of July.
Venky's takeover of the club, which won the Premier League title in 1995, provoked protest among fans, who criticised the new owners' lack of financial muscle and football experience. The sacking of former manager Sam Allardyce further antagonised critics and the club struggled on the pitch last season, finishing three positions off the relegation zone.
Kean has said that the new owners are committed to the long-term future of the club. Rao told the Indian Express that they were currently looking for a "good striker and a good midfielder" without elaborating on possible targets.