Finally, football is here to stay in India.
A joint venture between IMG Reliance, Star Sports and the All India Football Federation (AIFF), the Hero ISL 2014 (named after Title Sponsor Hero motocorp), in its inaugural edition—based on a similar franchise and competition system to the IPL—will be a top-tier football league in India, featuring 8 franchise teams, with the opening match held on 12th October, 2014 at the world-famous Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata.
The visionary competition go on till December, with every team playing every other team twice (Home and Away) in traditional round-robin format, and the top 4 teams entering the two-legged semi-final stage, before a one-legged Final.
The teams are ready, the marquee signings have made news for months, and we’re less than a week away for KICKOFF for India’s biggest football league.
Here is what you, as an excited football fan and curious viewer, should look forward to:
- For those interested in pure star-gazing while warming up to the game on show, the names of the owners should bring you in: Sourav Ganguly is one of the owners of Atletico De Kolkata (along with football team and current La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid—which explains their trademark striped jerseys), Sachin Tendulkar is a joint-owner for Kerala Blasters FC (Kochi), Ranbir Kapoor co-owns Mumbai City FC, John Abraham co-owns Northeast United FC, Salman Khan co-owns Pune City FC, and Abhishek Bachchan—who is already owner of Pro-Kabaddi League Champions Jaipur—was unveiled as owner of Chennaiyin FC, in technical collaboration with famous Italian team Inter Milan FC.
(Note: It will be interesting to watch Pune take on Chennai, with Abhishek and Salman probably cheering for their teams in the technical area, inches away from one another)
- The Salt Lake Stadium, Atletico De Kolkata’s Home stadium, has a throbbing capacity of 120,000, and it still holds the Indian record for hosting 131,000 fans in 1997 for a match between arch-rivals Mohan Bagan FC and East Bengal FC.
- Each team will have four local city players in their squad (out of 14 Indian players), which will bring Indian footballers into the limelight, thereby increasing the probability of achieving that almighty goal: India playing in the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Impossible is nothing.
- The competition will be broadcasted over 8 channels, and reach out to 85% of the Indian TV audience.
- Marquee players—a famous former or current international player—are no small names: Former Liverpool and Atletico Spanish star Luis Garcia (Kolkata), former Manchester City and Santos Brazilian midfielder Elano (Chennaiyin), Juventus legend and World Cup Winner for Italy Alessandro Del Piero (Delhi), Arsenal legend Frenchman striker Robert Pires (Goa), Arsenal legend, heartthrob and former Swedish captain Freddie Ljungberg (Mumbai), former English goalkeeping legend David James (Kerala), Former World Cup winner and Villareal Spanish leftback Joan Capdevila (Northeast), French World Cup Winner and Juventus striking legend David Trezeguet (Pune).
- Famous coaches include former Bolivian and Valencia coach Antonio Lopez Habas (Kolkata), Inter Milan and Zidane head-butting victim Marco Materazzi (Chennaiyin), one of the greatest Brazilian players ever Zico (Goa), footballing pundit and coach Peter Reid as well as David James, who will serve as marquee player and coach for Kerala a la Shane Warne for Rajasthan Royals.
- Other formidable foreign player signings include French legend Nicolas Anelka (Mumbai), United star Mikael Silvestre (Chennaiyin), Brazilian star Andre Santos (Goa), Newcastle-born and scorer of the fastest-ever EPL goal Michael Chopra (Kerala), former PSG French defender Bernard Mendy (Chennaiyin), former French central defender Gregory Arnolin (Goa), former Scottish legend Jamie McAllister (Kerala), Greek legend Kostas Katsouranis (Pune).
- The key Indian player to watch out for is Subrata Paul for Mumbai—India’s best goalkeeper for a while now. It is a pity that Mohan Bagan striking superstar Jeje Lalpekhlua won’t be playing for defunct Bangalore—the Indian world deserved a glance at him. One of India’s best centre-backs Gouramangi Singh, also the 2007 Nehru Cup Winner, will play for Chennai.
- Others to watch out for: Lalrindika Ralte, all of 21, is a East Bengal central midfielder that will play for Mumbai on loan.
United SC 21-year old Bengali lad Mohammed Rafique will play for Atletico De Kolkata.
Talented forward Jayesh Rane will play for Chennai on loan from I-league’s Mumbai FC.
The best rightback of India and Mohan Bagan youngster Pritam Kotal will play for FC Pune City.
Expect more than just friendly banter between these former and current superstars of World football, and expect the Indian rookies to claw their way to stardom in front of one of the biggest-ever football audiences the world has ever seen.
Let the games begin.