The stage was already populated with Bollywood stars and some of the top industrialists from the country when Sachin Tendulkar took his place at the centre. Thursday was labeled as the day that would launch a bold, new era in Indian football. Yet, it took Tendulkar’s aura to usher it in.
The Indian Super League (ISL) has been shrouded in secrecy so far. But on Thursday, the organisers lifted the lid, at least partially, during a grand launch at a city hotel. It had all the glamour that the organisers have so far promised. And there was some crystal ball gazing too, quite literally in fact.
Sachin Tendulkar, Abhishek Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, Nita Ambani, and some of the top industrialists of the country, spoke of their intent to bring India on the football map. It remains to be seen whether a glammed up Indian league strikes a chord with the wider audience.
But if the launch event is anything to go by, ISL may well turn out to be the game changer, at least in the way domestic football is projected. “ISL is an audacious dream to make India a footballing nation,”said Nita Ambani, who is also the founding chairperson of Football Sports Development, a joint venture between IMG-Reliance and Star under which the ISL will be held.
One of the biggest fallouts of the emergence of ISL has been its expected impact on the I-League. There are growing concerns that the tournament will eventually overshadow the I-League but All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel assured it will continue to remain the country’s premier domestic competition. “There’s a lot of excitement as we embark on a new adventure. This is the first tournament of this nature approved by FIFA anywhere in the world. I-League is there and will continue to be the mainstay of Indian football but this (ISL) is a unique product,” Patel said.
Abhishek Bachchan was confirmed as the owner of the Chennai team after nearly a month of suspense. Chennai are the last-minute replacements for the Sun Group-owned Bangalore franchise, which pulled out owing differences with the organisers. Bachchan’s team has a technical tie-up with Italian giants Inter Milan and are in talks with former Italy defender Marco Materazzi for the manager’s role.
Inter aren’t the only team to foray into the ISL. Their Serie A rivals Fiorentina (Pune City), Dutch club Feyenoord (Delhi) and Atletico Madrid (Kolkata) are the other European teams who have technical tie-ups with the franchisees.
The ISL kicks off on October 12 in Kolkata, with the first match between Atletico Kolkata and Mumbai City at the Salt Lake Stadium. The final will be played on December 20. From the recently-retired professionals like David James and Robert Pires to Allesandro del Piero and David Trezeguet, the ISL has attracted quite a few big names. Del Piero will also be the league’s ambassador.