Anjali Shah is the President of Premier India Football Academy (PIFA) and has, since 2006, been running PIFA with the main aim of the foundation being 'the empowerment of underprivileged youth'. She take cares of five teams in the professional league - men's and women's team across age categories under-18, 15, and 13, which play at the National level. Shah says that "along with empowering underprivileged kids, the aim is to better their football skills and to help them to get onto a higher platform, which will help them to basically become the best version of themselves. So we have always been involved in football with women's football very close to my heart."
On Saturday, October 12, along with Hafele India, she was overseeing as many as 18 girls who were being taught by none other than FIFA World Cup winner Klaus Augenthaler in Mumbai at the Mahalaxmi racecourse. Augenthaler was in the city to hold a 'Masterclass session' for 18 aspiring female footballers. These girls were selected by Shah amongst a pool of 150 girls in a 'first-ever skills contest conducted in India'. Shah says that apart from the fact that so many girls are willing to play the game which is so close to her heart, she was delighted to see new faces. She said, "these aren't the girls who are a part of the circuit or have played before or anything. Yet, we have identified around 18 talented girls amongst them."
On being asked about what were the basis of selection, she said, "We have a skills contest that passes certain tests, and there is a score which is tabulated and on the basis of that, we have arrived at the top 18 rankings."
The master held a one-hour session with the girls, where he taught them techniques of ball control, passing, dribbling, and heading the ball. Although he was not fluent in English, the former Bayern Munich player ensured that his message was conveyed to the players. It was not a one-off event for these young girls since they will be trained every week.
She said, "Amongst the 150 girls that we have scouted, I have already identified a U-17 and one U-14 team. These girls are going to be playing in the MDFA youth league, so there is a roadmap for them. They will be mentored, guided, exposed to all sorts of techniques."
Shah said that the girls will be trained in Mahalaxmi. She said, "We will be looking to train them in Mahalaxmi itself. I have two astro-turf pitches, and these girls are mainly from three areas - JJ, Sewri, and Parel, and looking at the geographical location, they will be looking to train in Mahalaxmi. They train only twice a week, during weekends. That is because every girl has other commitments and they are busy with their school and family."
As of now, PIFA has been working all by themselves and have been pumping their own funds into the project. The cost of training one girl is a minimum of Rs 15,000 and they have a total of 90 kids in three batches. They take care of the kits, insurance, medical, and also provide the girls a physiotherapist. She says that has not collaborated in any significant manner with an external organization, including the Government. She said, "We are doing things on our own, but if the government wants to help us, they can definitely reach out to us."