It was bound to happen sooner or later. One country was always going to try an “All-Star” mini football league, and it’s no surprise that it’s India which has come up with the idea.
The South Asian nation already has the Indian Premier League in cricket. But although much of its billion-plus population has yet to really engage with the global game, the country’s burgeoning middle class is starting to embrace the sport.
The concept is simple. A small number of teams fielding some of the most famous players in the world will be used to try to appeal to a mass audience. It certainly worked in cricket, though interest seems to be falling. But football is a much more difficult proposition. After all, although the Indian test team might be struggling, off the field India is still the most influential nation there is.
That reality, coupled with the game’s huge popularity (and the few options for the stars to go elsewhere), made it easy to build a glamorous competition to attract big names and crowds. To do something similar in football, though, is much more difficult. For a start, when it comes to the beautiful game, India is usually ranked well outside the top 100 teams. In addition, the big names can earn very big money in Europe, and simply don’t see South Asia as the place to go and play football.
Still, the weekend announcement of the plans did involve some famous players. Just like the cricket version, there are a number of stars ready to play for the six teams, and they’ll be “auctioned off” in Kolkata before the competition gets going in February.
The names involved were among the biggest in the sport a few years ago. Now, they are close to retirement, but seem happy to give the new Indian venture a try. Players involved so far reportedly include the likes of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, former French and Arsenal star Robert Pires and ex-England international and Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler.
There will also be some well-known, though not exactly top-notch, coaches drafted in to take control of the teams in the six towns and cities, which are all based in West Bengal where football is most popular.
“We’ve signed seven ‘icon’ players for the auction and each of the six teams will have one such player with a $600,000 salary cap,” said Bhaswar Goswami, executive director of Celebrity Management Group (CMG), the company that organized the cricket version.
“Every team will have $2.5 million to spend in the first year. They will have a maximum of four foreigners and a compulsory six under-21 Indian players in their squad,” he said.
“We saw the hype and buzz around the players’ auction in the IPL (Indian Premier League) and feel it can be an equal success. It’s a brilliant concept. We expect owners to make profit much earlier than the IPL franchises.”
It remains to be seen if Indian fans are really going to be interested in former stars in their own backyard, or more importantly, how it will affect the country’s existing league the I-League.
What India really needs is big money spent on facilities, infrastructure and youth coaching. This latest idea certainly looks interesting, but whether it will be even part of the answer to India’s football needs remains to be seen.