Instant cricket, the 20/20 version has found a home in India's Premier league, one of the world's most lucrative sporting brands, till corruption eroded its worth. The success of the IPL is inspiring a new soccer league in India which will see the likes of Roberto Pires, Fabio Cannavaro, Juan Pablo Sorin, and others participating in a soccer competition styled on the IPL format.
30 players and six coaches from overseas will be auctioned off in Kolkata for the month and half long tournament that begins Feb 25th and ends April 8th. There will be six teams and each team will get an "icon" player with a $600,000 salary cap counting towards a maximum of $2.5 million spending money the first year. The league initially will be confined to West Bengal, home of the most soccer crazy fans in India, but the Celebrity Management Group, the brain trust behind this project envisions an expansion to other states in due course. Accordingly, CMG has signed onto a 30 year contract with the Indian Football Association.
To encourage local talent there will be a cap of four foreign players and the rest of them will be picked up from the U21 Indian teams. This component cannot be overstated because India is one of the most dismal nations, if not the most dismal, when it comes to playing soccer with a FIFA ranking of 162. Any exposure to the sort of quality that players like Pires, Cannavaro, or Sorin provide will be good for the development of the sport.
Other players tapped for this league include a number of names in the twilight of their careers. Familiar names like Jay Jay Okocha, Hernan Crespo, Robbie Fowler, Fernando Morientes, and Maniche will get an opportunity to make some pretty easy money while entertaining Indian audiences.
Former Arsenal player and legend Pires is pretty excited about coming to India.
"I am proud to be the first Frenchman to go and play there. And eight weeks is nothing."
He maybe the first Frenchman to play there but India has a long history of French colonialism since the 17th century. Does he know the French used to have a colony near Kolkata called Chandernagore, now renamed Chandannagar? It was part of French India till the 1950s.
CMG was also behind bringing Diego Maradona to Kolkata back in 2008 which brought the city to a standstill. The Argentinian great kickstarted a project called Mission 2020 which envisions India qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. The last time India went to a World Cup was in 1954 but they withdrew because FIFA refused to accede to their demands to play barefoot. More recently, Bayern Munich came calling playing an Indian XI as part of Baichung Bhutia's testimonial which ended rather badly for the home side losing 4-0. Which gives an idea of how uphill India's climb is for World Cup qualification.
India maybe in the soccer doldrums but 60 million fans represents a huge market for clubs hoping to get new business. Bayern and Liverpool have ambitions in India which includes setting up soccer academies. Positive developments like this soccer league which actually helps India improve the quality of its soccer can only be welcome.