Bollywood actor John Abraham who co-owns the North East United FC, the Guwahati franchise of the upcoming Indian Super League, said his team management’s aim was to concentrate on Indian players from that region only.
“We were very clear that we would select players from the Northeast. Most of the players in our team are from the under-19 lot and also players from under-20,” he said.
North East United FC have retained a set of 14 domestic players from their tie-up with the I-League club Shillong Lajong FC.
He added that in the first year the team would play its matches in Guwahati and then look at Shillong and Sikkim as possible alternate venues.
Abraham said the franchise’s focus is on grassroot level and would like to produce a strong team for the future, keeping in mind the U-17 World Cup that would be held in India in 2017, adding that the team is looking to rope in young international players.
“We have put success secondary. We are concentrating on grassroots. We know that India would be hosting the U-17 World Cup in 2017. We want to concentrate on the young talent. We have got a very formidable U-19 team in Shillong Lajong, which is our partner.
“We want to pull out all the talent from there and hone those skills and it may take a couple of years. We don’t mind taking a beating at this point of time, which is actually not the case but we would rather have a very strong Indian team for the future,” he said.
Praising the organisers for selecting the Northeastern city, he said, “Policy wise, Northeast has always been kept away from the rest of India. It is time now for people to realise that Northeast is the true region where football is born in this country.
“We are concentrating a good mix of players. At any given point of time, there could be six international players and five Indian players and that mix could change. We are looking at a good healthy mix with probably more Indian players than international players.”
“Development is an area we are concentrating on. It is not just about buying out players and trying to win in the first year. We want to sustain and we want to develop a strong team for the future. We want to have a great youth team which can play in the U-17 World Cup,” he said.
The franchise has signed Spanish defender Joan Capdevila as its marquee player.
Abraham said the ISL is a place where Indian football players would get a platform to showcase their talent.
Agreeing with Abraham, Indian goalkeeper Subrata Paul, who was picked by the Mumbai team, said the ISL would benefit the Indian national team.
“I have played a few matches in Denmark and I feel the Indian players have the ability to play in European leagues. The ISL is a good platform and there is a good interest among the players about it. It will also help the national team,” Paul said.
National team player Syed Rahim Nabi was also selected by the Mumbai franchise and he said it would be a challenge for him to play outside Kolkata.
The Mumbai team’s spokesperson Anirban Blah said they have identified a few venues and would announce the name of the team, the coach and the venue in two weeks’ time.