Six football teams of the newly formed Indian Super League (ISL) picked their first seven domestic players on Tuesday in Mumbai. The teams that picked their players included Atletico de Kolkata, Delhi Dynamos FC, Kerala Blasters FC, Team Pune, Team Mumbai and Team Bangalore. The Goa and Guwahati teams had already picked their squads from their I–League clubs Dempo and Shillong Lajong earlier.
Unlike the Indian Premier League—the popular twenty20 cricket tourney—where the players are auctioned, the football league selects players at a fixed price. Neither the organizers nor the teams were willing to disclose the pricing details and their expenditure on players.
The Indian Super League’s inaugural season will kick off in September. It will see eight football teams battle it out for the top spot. The Indian Super League is organized by IMG Reliance—a joint venture between Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd and IMG, a global sports, fashion and media business—and Rupert Murdoch’s Star India Pvt. Ltd in partnership with the All India Football Federation.
According to a statement, of the 42 players picked up across six teams on Tuesday, 26 players had played for the Indian national team in the last three years. Team Mumbai got off to a good start by grabbing Subrata Paul, while national team midfielder Lenny Rodrigues was drafted in by team Pune. National team midfield, Mehtab Hussain was picked up by the Kochi Blasters FC.
While, Francis Fernandes will play for Delhi Dynamos FC. Team Bengaluru, which picked up national team veteran Gouramangi Singh for their squad, also picked up 2013 AIFF Young Player of the Year Awardee, striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. While most of the teams were working through the list, mindful of the fact that they had to select their domestic players before they zeroed in on the international players, there was some concern regarding the fact that the final list of international players had not been made available. Each team at the Indian Super League will have a minimum squad strength of 22 players.
This includes one marquee player, seven international players and 14 domestic players. Additionally, a team can increase its squad by five more players of its choice, outside of the central player pool draft. “We have given the teams a good indication of the knowledge and level of (international) players they can expect. Of course, no final list is out yet.
We expect the draft for international players to be out by 20 August,” said Andy Knee, vice-president, football, IMG–Sports Entertainment and Media. The selection of the domestic and international players for the ISL is being held separately owing to the “transfer window” which is a phase between June and August where international players and teams evaluate their assignments.
They assess the best opportunities available to them in terms of money and length of contract before signing up, said Knee. Knee added that since Indian football is not yet high-profile on the global stage, “we really have to educate the international players on the opportunities. The players, in turn, want to wait it out and see what comes their way from across the globe.”
To be sure, getting football stars will be key factor to pulling in the crowds for the league. Said John Abraham, actor and co-owner of the North East United FC: “One part of it will be to pull in fans that actually follow the Indian football leagues, and the other to pull in fans outside that demographic who follow international leagues. So it will important to get to marquee players who can get the eyeballs.” He wanted to develop a strong vibrant grassroots team for the future. The team has already signed on Juan Capdevila, the World Cup winning Spanish defender as its marquee player.