It seems only natural that Jeremy Fishbein might have developed a taste for curry while living in India – though, he says, Indian cuisine is as diverse as that country’s population.
Just know that Fishbein will never lose his taste for green chile – or the state of New Mexico.
“It’s great to be away, maybe viewing things from afar,” Fishbein, 56, said during a recent interview at Frontier restaurant – a day before he was to leave for a second extended stay in Chennai, India, as director of a soccer academy, FC Madras, and part of an ambitious project there. “But it just makes you realize how much you love (New Mexico) and miss it – being not a passenger, but being impactful.”
During Fishbein’s 17-year tenure as the University of New Mexico men’s soccer coach, his impact was tangible and undeniable. He guided the Lobos to the NCAA championship game in 2005, to the Final Four in 2013 and to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances.
That tenure came to an end in 2018, when UNM dropped men’s soccer for financial reasons. “That whole thing rocked me more than I thought it would,” he said.
After the program was disbanded, Fishbein coached girls soccer as a volunteer assistant at Albuquerque High, where his younger daughter, Gabriela Meraz-Fishbein, was playing. But he was restless, searching, wanting to make a difference.
Meanwhile, software billionaire Girish Mathrubootham, a Chennai native who lives in Seattle, was searching for a way through his company, Freshworks, to make soccer a more viable part of his native country’s sports panorama.
“They’re the best in cricket,” Fishbein said, “but there’s only, really, 15 countries competing in cricket. And soccer’s the world game.”
How Fishbein and Mathrubootham connected is one of those small-world stories.
Stacey Epstein, an all-state goalkeeper at Albuquerque Academy in the mid-80s, works for Freshworks as Chief Marketing Officer. Her father, Bob Epstein, is a longtime UNM booster and a friend of Fishbein’s.
“Bob, just kind out of the blue, called me,” Fishbein said. “… We went to lunch and he said, yeah, Stacey works for this guy. Kind of just coincidence, and I followed it up.”
Fishbein and Mathrubootham hit it off immediately.
“I started remotely last summer (2021),” Fishbein said. “I wasn’t able to actually get a visa and move to India until February because of COVID. But I was working remotely and doing a lot of work around the United States, just kind of learning about a different angle of soccer than I’d been previously involved in.
“Then I moved there in February and just hit the ground running.”
FC Madras, fully bankrolled by Mathrubootham, is an undertaking of staggering proportions.
“We should be fully up and operating in January,” Fishbein said, “and it’s hard to really to compare it to anything around.
“I’d say a similar (project) in the United States would probably be close to 80 to 100 million (dollars). It’s 20 acres, it’s residential. It’s got a school, business offices, a stick-lighted stadium, lighted (practice) fields, an indoor swimming pool.”
Fishbein said the plan is eventually to have 120 young athletes in residence and attending school. “And everything’s paid for,” he said.
The combination of athletics and education under the same canopy, so common in North America, is almost unheard of elsewhere. But in India as in the U.S., most athletes will never play professionally. If the residents of FC Madras can take full advantage of the educational benefits offered there, lives can be changed for the better.
“What we’re doing in India is kind of different,” Fishbein said, “in that the value we’re placing on the holistic development of our players is kind of introducing a different way of doing things.”
Fishbein has been back in Albuquerque more than once since leaving for Chennai. He’s put down deep roots since moving here in 2001, and uprooting those is out of the question.
His wife, Alicia Meraz, is a UNM graduate and a counselor at Armijo Elementary School. On this most recent trip home, he was able to visit Gabriela, who plays soccer at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and older daughter Alisa, who runs track and cross country at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Fishbein isn’t sure what his role at FC Madras will be beyond next spring, though he’d likely make himself available in some way.
The long term goal, he said, “is to be back in New Mexico. This is where I want to spend my life …You want a platform where you can be impactful. I had that for 18 years.
“(Now) it’s how to find something again where you can really contribute to the community, and to the kids of the community.”