THE Hero Indian Super League is yet to start but the arrival of international football stars have piqued the interest of many Indians.
From Oct 12 to Dec 20, India is set to be dazzled by stars like Joan Capdevilla, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and Marco Materazzi in the Hero Indian Super League. The tournament is being co-promoted by IMG-Reliance and Star India with leading industrialists, sports stars and Bollywood bigwigs investing in eight different franchises.
Eight clubs or franchises are based out of cities and districts like Chennai, Goa, Guwahati, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kochi and Pune and the names of these clubs should impress you! They are: Atletico de Kolkata, Chennaiyin FC, Delhi Dynamos, FC Goa, FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters FC, Mumbai City FC and North East United.
Even before the first kick, fans are beginning to embrace the new league. Kids are talking about it and trying to imitate their favourite players on the field. And the #LetsFootball hashtag is beginning to pick up steam on social media with celebrities like Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar doing their bit to promote the league and football in India.
Similar with the Cricket T20 Indian Premier League, which runs for two months, the football league will not use the promotion/relegation system but follow the franchise system.
As a football fan, I’m looking forward to this league!
For one, it’s going to create a big impact among Indians and we might just see more youngsters taking up football instead of cricket. With a population of more than one billion, India has the potential to be a superpower in Asian football.
The mission of this league is to create an entertaining and top class football league that engages hundreds of millions of fans and improves the standard of the sport in India.
Being a cricket crazy nation, it’s certainly going to take time for football to grow. But with the right management and planning, who knows?
Most of the teams have professional set-ups and the coaches have been very impressed with the infrastructure so far. This is the time for Indian players to learn from the very best. Sadly, the league will see some top Indian players missing out on the action.
Current India captain Sunil Chhetri as well as Robin Singh, Balwant Singh and Victorino Fernandes are among the leading Indian players who weren’t included in the pool of 84 domestic signings due to the tough stand taken by I-League sides Bengaluru, Salgaocar, Sporting Clube de Goa and Pune.
The I-League is the other professional league in the country. Contested by 10 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation.
I-League club owners were against the inception of the Indian Super league. In 2013 they set up an the Indian Professional Football Clubs Association, stating that it was against loaning its players to the new league and that it would not sign any players who joined the Super League. At the Super League draft however, IMG-Reliance announced that it had acquired a number of Indian players for inclusion.
That issue aside, all eight teams from the Super League have bolstered their sides with experienced foreign players who have played at the very top. Some of these players have even come out from retirement just to play in the league.
Materazzi (Chennaiyin FC), Frederick Ljungberg (Mumbai FC), David James (Kerala Blasters) and Pires (FC Goa) are among the marquee players who will grace the league. And then there are the likes of former France goal machine David Trezeguet (FC Pune City), former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid forward Luis Garcia (Atletico de Kolkata), journeyman Nicolas Anelka (Mumbai FC), former Greece captain Kostas Katsouranis (FC Pune City), former Brazilian internationals Andre Santos (FC Goa) and Elano (Chennaiyin FC).
Publicity wise, these players are certainly good enough to pull in the crowds and I think they’ll also be able to make an impact on the game in India. Furthermore, the Indian players will surely be spurred to impress as well.
Imagine being coached by Peter Reid (Mumbai FC), Franco Colomba (FC Pune City), Zico (FC Goa) and Rickie Herbert (North East United). Surely that fact can only have a positive impact on the sport.
For now, there are no clear favourites for the league. All of the teams are well equipped and all have their strengths. But whatever it is, come Oct 12, many will surely be glued on their televisions to see the drama unfold. Will it be a success or just another Bollywood fantasy? We shall have to wait and see ...> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.