I am a student of Communicative English at St. Joseph’s College Bangalore. I have been a huge fan of sports right from my childhood. I look to pursue a career in sports but with a twist to it. I look at each game as a story of its own and I have been inspired by sports persons who have provided such amazing stories on the field. In the recent past though, I have been inspired by the people behind the scenes who work hard to make these stories pan out as they do. One such inspiration has been a dear friend who also happens to have worked in the Indian Super League for 2 years. His name is Varun Ravi, he is 24 and is from Chennai. He is a jovial young man who is an ardent football fan and has been from the age of 9. He told me once it was the great Zinedine Zidane and Wayne Rooney that drew him to the sport and he is a huge Manchester United fan. So what does Varun Ravi do? Well, he is a performance analyst in football and worked for Delhi Dynamos for 2 seasons. The phrase performance analyst is quite self explanatory but there are a few tools one must posses to be an analyst. It requires comprehensive tactical and statistical knowledge for one to be a performance analyst in football. He has to gain the manager’s trust and work in tandem with the coaching staff and players to give them valuable feedback which helps the team get better by the day. One has to have an intrinsic understanding of the sport and always be on his toes to make keen observations that would be important and beneficial.
It is not the profession in itself that interested me but the journey Varun Ravi took to reach where he is today is what attracted me the most. So, he spoke to me about his journey and his profession and some other fun things that come as incentives along with it.
“I joined engineering after 12th because a lot of my friends were doing it. At the time it was a norm to do Engineering and go on to do MBA and MS. I was never interested in it. I sat in the last benches and wrote articles about football and thought about previous night’s games”, he said.
“A lot of them are not given the opportunity to pursue their dreams. My passion was football from the age of 9 and I have been crazy about the game since. Now I am doing what I really love. Students get into mainstream courses like B.E, M.B.B.S and creativity is lost somewhere in the midst. Obviously some of them are really interested in it but a lot of them probably aren’t”.
“Success in life is something which is very subjective, it can be about money, good health, friends , family and career.
Life isn’t a race, for me it is more of a journey or an adventure and different people do it at a different pace. The most important things are self belief and self respect, if you don’t believe in yourself and respect yourself don’t expect others to do it.
Every one is different in their own way, like Einstein said it you cannot teach a fish to climb a tree or expect it to. There is no better feeling than doing what you love. Parents have to counsel them properly if they are doing things out of peer pressure and not because of what is right for them and have to allow their kids to pursue their dreams”.
However he had some words of caution for any young kids who want to follow their passion:
“You cannot just quit everything and take on the world. I still have a Computers degree and it helps me in my job now and also it is something to fall back on. You need to be realistic about these things. I cannot become an analyst in fencing in India can I?” He called for pragmatism more than anything else.
Anyone who decides to chase after dreams and follow their passion needs a very good social support system and he had his parents and friends by his side.
He had to work hard and the ride wasn’t smooth. He used to write articles on his blog and one of his articles got picked up by the Football Manager website and he was credited for it. He was initially rejected by Chennayin F.C because he wasn’t savvy with the analytics software. He then joined an internship to learn the software and interestingly got his first job as an analyst in Hockey as he was part of the Indian Junior Hockey team and went to Australia with them. He is proud to have represented the country in some form. This is why he holds internships in high regard as it gives a working experience and you understand the aesthetics of the field.
He then began telling me about what he does as an analyst:
“After the game is done I watch it a couple of times more and make a video of things that I observed in the match. After that I sit with the coach and show him the analysis I have done. He then suggests a few clips of his own and suggests changes if needed, we then show the videos to the players. Pre game we look at the opposition’s last three games and see if there any are areas we can exploit. If a player asks for bits from games then I’d give it to him”.
He was also given the responsibility of scouting for the team, which is a very interesting job if you are a football fan, to watch the youngsters play and try to unearth talents across the country. As a scout he has observed the youth players across the country and when asked about how he recruited new players he says:
“You build a system around the players and make the best use of their abilities. You cannot have pre conceived notions. The coach is usually signed or arrives after all the Indian players have been signed. A maximum of 10-12 Indian players stay at the club. There is a lot of movement across clubs. So you cannot have a rigid system in mind. But obviously we do discuss with the head coach about what kind of players he wants and what system he prefers to use. Then on it’s about shortlisting players and taking an unanimous decision on who we need to sign”.
“And about the youth, we have the biggest or the second biggest population in the world, don’t tell me we don’t have enough talent. There is a lot of talent in Mizoram and Manipur. But the development of talent is the key. The kids play football for a brief while and then go back to their hometown to paint or do carpentry. You need to start early from the under-7 or under-9 level. We need to improve the facilities. We don’t need state of the art infrastructure, we need bare minimum facilities for the kids. At ISL maybe include under-21s to be in the line-up, a minimum youth quota might help”, he is of the opinion that our youth players do not get enough professional football under their belt to develop.
He stresses upon the point that it is also important to keep players in and around the game. Eugeneson Lyngdoh was not renowned when he was at Shillong Lajong and he came to Bengaluru F.C in his late twenties and has been one of the best in the country since. The credit belongs to Pradyum Reddy, assistant coach of BFC at the time adds Ravi.
Through his professional journey, he has met some legends of the game and has made some amazing friendships:
He has been good friends with Florent Malouda and John Arne Riise, both of whom were signed by Delhi. He had some very nice words to say about them:
“I have great banter with Flo (Malouda). We talk about 2008 Champions League final and also the 2012 one. Although some of it came back to bite me in the backside recently as Manchester United lost 4-0 to Chelsea.Flo is the humblest person I have met. He is very down to earth, funny and an amazing professional. You can speak to these guys for hours about their experiences. They have amazing stories to tell. These are world cup winners, champions league winners .John is charismatic. Despite John supporting the wrong team (Liverpool), we got along very well. He was very supportive when I started out at the club and offered me a lot of guidance when I was struggling to find my footing. He has since then remained a close friend and a brother like figure. Riise is a fantastic character”, he said.
Adil Nabi signed for Delhi on loan from West Bromwich Albion, which was a first of its kind, a Premier League player moving directly to ISL on loan. Varun has shared quite a cordial relationship with him as well:
“In Adil I found a brother, we spent a lot of our free time together. I’m still in constant touch with him. His story is quite inspirational too, very humble beginnings and for all of them(him and his 2 brothers) to become professional footballers it’s just something fantastic. Last season his younger brother Samir Nabi spent time at Delhi Dynamos FC. I might get into hot waters for this but Samir was definitely better than Adil at both table tennis and FIFA. Although I was better than both at FIFA, hands down”, said Ravi facetiously.
Varun has worked with two coaches at Delhi in two seasons, both world cup winners. When asked about how it was like to work with the legendary fullbacks, Carlos and Zambrotta, he said:
“Roberto Carlos was the first coach I worked with in football. It was an honour working with the legend. He is jovial and has a fantastic eye for detail when it comes to football”.
“With Gianluca Zambrotta and Simone Barone (Assistant coach) I learnt more in 4 months than what I did in the last ten years. Will always be grateful these legends”.
For a person like me this is a dream job and I know for a fact that there are many people like me who want to pursue the field of sports analytics and have been held back due to some factor in their life. Someone once told me it is impossible to make it as an analyst in India as it would not feed me and what Ravi’s story gives me and the people around him is not only the possibilty but that belief to try and do the unconventional. If he can make it as an analyst in the country’s most glamorous football league so can I, provided I put in the hard yards and remember this isn’t a sprint but a marathon.