Will there ever come a time when football fans the world over become more excited about the Indian Super League (ISL) than the Barclays Premier League, La Liga, or UEFA Champions? Judging by the superstar turnout at the ISL premiere, it’s certainly plausible…
In a cricket-crazy country of over a billion people, lies a growing passion for the world’s most beautiful game. And what better to show off that passion than the introduction of an Indian Super League?
Now the question most readers would ask is, what about the existing I-League which has been India’s premier football league featuring the popular Mohun Bagan and East Bengal football clubs? The difference is that the Indian Super League is a franchise created in a similar fashion to the cricket-based Indian Premier League. The league format which is set up for 10-weeks and features eight clubs kicked-off this past Sunday and will run until December 20.
Of course, ‘Star Power’ is another thing that’s sure to help create mass appeal. Teams are owned by a host of India’s top industrialists and numerous celebrities including Bollywood heartthrobs Ranbir Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan, India’s cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Prince of Kolkata Sourav Ganguly and Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar. The financial muscle behind the franchise comprises of India’s Reliance Industries, Rupert Murdoch’s Star India and sports management giant IMG.
ISL also features a number of former football greats, who will no doubt greatly benefit from this second chance. According to the DailyMail, some of these big names include former Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka, Italian World Cup winners Alessandro Del Piero and Marco Materazzi and Spanish World Cup winner Joan Capdevilla. Former French internationals David Trezeguet and Robert Pires have also been given the opportunity to further showcase their talents.
Prior to the opening match a packed audience was treated to a glitzy opening ceremony featuring Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Bollywood superstars Priyanka Chopra, Hrithik Roshan, Ranbir Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham.
La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid is part of a consortium that owns the ISL club Atletico de Kolkata, who won the opening match against Ranbir Kapoor-owned Mumbai City FC. Former Arsenal ‘invincible’ Freddie Ljungberg and Nicolas Anelka, who are both part of the Mumbai City squad, did not feature in yesterday’s match. But former Liverpool players Luis Garcia and Josemi both starred for Atletico de Kolkata, as they look to reignite their professional careers.
BBC reports that experienced English player of Indian origin Michael Chopra will be one of the highlights of the Indian Super league. Chopra has played with the likes of Newcastle United, Sunderland, Blackpool, Cardiff and Ipswich. He is part of Tendulkar’s team the Kerala Blasters.
While speaking to Reuters, All India Football Federation (AIFF) Vice President Subrata Dutta was quoted saying, “Indian football had somewhat stagnated. Nothing great was happening and we were not progressing at the desirable rate. We have been hovering between 140 and 160 in rankings for many years now and we needed something big to push us forward. We at the AIFF felt that an explosion is needed in Indian football. We felt the ISL would give the necessary push to Indian football, it would make a difference”.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter once referred to India as the ‘sleeping giant’ of football. So will the Indian Super League help awaken the giant? Well, if the IPL and yesterday’s opening match are anything to go by… The answer is ‘Absolutely!’