Luca Soccer Club is based in Malappuram, Kerala. They grabbed the headlines a few months back when the news floated that they had the plan to bid for direct I-league entry. Even though that didn’t go as per their plans, they have set their goal for this season to qualify for I-league second division by winning Kerala Premier League.
We got an opportunity to chat with Mr. Waivaw Srivastav, the CEO of Luca SC. Here are the excerpts of the interview:
Clubs are usually named after their corresponding city, state, region, etc. However, the name of your club doesn’t adhere to those norms. Please tell us about the background story of this name.
“The club started as an academy in the year 2017. Our founder, Mr. Navas KV, had the idea of creating a club that would act as a platform for the youngsters of the locality to showcase their talent. When the academy was established, he named the new entity after the Italian legend Luca Toni who was an idol for Mr. Navas. He is also an ardent supporter of the Azzurri team and in 2019, we contacted Mr. Toni via Instagram to let him know about our club. He acknowledged our club and his former club, ACF Fiorentina, has been following us on Twitter.
From this season onwards, we added Malappuram to our name to connect with the fans in a better way. Henceforth, the name officially is Luca SC Malappuram.“
Your team started as an academy and then switched to senior division football. Your club has the aim to break into national divisions. Why did you choose this time-consuming path to reach the national level instead of directly trying for a spot in the I-League?
“It is true that starting as an academy and then slowly progressing to the higher divisions is a time-consuming process, but we feel it is the most suitable way to operate as a club. We were motivated to start and sustain this club, and our ultimate aim is to be at the topmost division but, we have to learn the ground reality to be sustainable. In the past decade, unfortunately, numerous clubs in India folded their operations. I think, at least some of them hadn’t done their homework before entering the Indian football top tier. They started with huge hopes but they felt dejected when ground reality struck them. It is difficult to break even in Indian football, let alone gain profit.
We, at Luca SC, want to take one step at a time. We want to progress, but not at the expense of a financial breakdown. We need to anticipate adverse situations just like the COVID pandemic.“
In the past season, the team had all players from Kerala itself. This year, Luca SC did sign a few players who hail from other states like Akash Dave. Is it because you want to build a strong squad keeping KPL title in mind?
“Yeah, we wanted a stronger squad as we want to win this season’s Kerala Premier League (KPL). Last season, we only had our academy players in our squad and none of them had previous experience at the senior level. Still, we put up a great display. We were the only team to defeat Gokulam Kerala FC in the group stages. We retained the core of that team and added more experience by recruiting players like Akash Dave from Jamshedpur FC reserves. KPL title will pave the path for I-League 2nd division and we aim to make it to the national level this season.“
You talked about the strength of the squad. Could you tell the player to watch out for this season?
“Athul Unnikrishnan is the player who can be the game-changer for us this season. He played against us in last season’s KPL for Golden Threads FC and since then we have kept him on our radar. He has a solid CV having played for the Mohun Bagan youth team and undergone a training stint in Spain. He is primarily a defensive player and I am sure that some other big club would have signed him if not for us.”
Please tell us more about your youth teams and scouting programs. Do you have plans to initiate a women’s team soon?
“We have 4 youth teams (grass-root level, U13, U15, U18) and a senior team.
Yeah, we had plans to start a women’s team and we even had conversations with stakeholders for the same. Notwithstanding that, the unprecedented COVID pandemic forced us to freeze our plans for the time being. Mark my words, we will form a women’s squad by next season. As per AFC’s new criteria for club licensing, it is mandatory to have a women’s team. Hence, you will see more clubs launching their ladies’ team in the near future.
Regarding our scouting of players; our philosophy is to promote academy players to the senior level so that we don’t have to search for senior team players from elsewhere. This season, 6 of our academy players graduated to the senior team, and along with that, we signed a few players from the reserve squads of Kerala Blasters and Gokulam Kerala.
We prefer not to scout by conducting camps as there will be hundreds of participants and we may not get adequate time to assess each player. If we see a spark in a young player, we call him to our facility and conduct a trial.”
Last year, you had plans to join I-league by corporate entry and later we came to know that, that plan was dropped. Why there was a change of thought?
“It is a fact that we had plans to join the I-league bandwagon. We had a conversation with our investors and sponsors, and we estimated expenses. Abreco Freight Private Limited is our chief sponsor and the owner of this firm is one of our directors as well. It was concluded in the end that; we should build something concrete at the foundation level before jumping to the national level which will be more demanding in terms of finances.“
We went through the website and social media handles of Luca SC and it needs to be said that the online presence of Luca SC is commendable. Your club is doing a great job on various social media platforms. Is fan engagement one of the top priorities?
“Of course, fan engagement is our top priority. If you have noticed, European clubs have dedicated feeds for Indian audiences in our regional languages. Even such established clubs give importance to fans who are sitting at the other side of the globe. Also, I feel social media is the major platform through which football clubs can earn apart from sponsorships. We regularly update our fans about club activities through social media platforms and create website articles about important events.
We will soon launch a Malayalam Twitter handle to connect better with the local community. We don’t want to leave any stones unturned.“
Before winding up, let me ask you; what are your realistic targets for this season?
“Our primary aim is to win the Kerala Premier League and qualify for the second division of the I-league. As far as our preparations are concerned, it appears as a possible one.”
Luca SC will begin their hunt for the KPL title from the first week of March. They appear to be an ambitious club with an aim to be a powerhouse in India.
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