A gambling addict who almost went bankrupt, a goalkeeper who was accused of living under an assumed identity, a backpacker who travelled in vain around Asia in search of a contract last year and a defender who is the butt of all jokes in his country.
The cash-rich Indian Super League (ISL), which will be officially launched here on Thursday, has turned out to be a playground for retired and over-the-hill football professionals to dust off their boots and enjoy a final fling with the game. At the same time, the three-month tournament, which begins on October 12, has also revived the careers of several foreign players who have been on the verge of sinking into oblivion.
Last week, the owners of eight teams gathered at a plush South Mumbai hotel and splurged crores to acquire the services of 49 foreign players.
But Michael Chopra, Apoula Edel, Manuel Friedrich and Bernard Mendy stand out among them not just for the exploits on the field during their prime but also because of their bizarre stories that have eventually landed them to India.
Till a month ago, Indian-origin English striker Michael Chopra’s future on was on the tenterhooks. He was let go by his club Blackpool after the 30-year-old failed to score for an entire season. He was in the docks for placing illegal bets on horse racing, in which he lost £2 million and almost became bankrupt.
And with no football club willing to take him on board, there were serious question marks over his career. “That’s in the past now,” Chopra said last week. “I want to move over that phase of my life and hope to play for the Indian national team by giving up my British passport.”
Valued at $58,185, Chopra was the first pick for Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala Blasters. Interestingly, the team is coached by former England goalkeeper David James, who declared himself bankrupt in May this year.
Like Chopra, Cameroon goalkeeper Edel too had hit a roadblock after none of the clubs showed interest in him. The former Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) goalkeeper was released by Israeli club Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2013 and had failed to get a contract since.
Crucially, it was the controversy over his identity that virtually made him a pariah. Edel has been accused of living under an assumed identity, of having two passports. He is in fact five years older than his reported age (28) and his real name is Ambroise Beyamena. And although he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the French police four years ago, the damage had been done.
At $80,000, Edel’s former PSG teammate Bernard Mendy was the highest-paid player at last week’s draft, snapped up by Team Chennai.
The 32-year-old French defender has the distinction of being the longest-serving continued…