KOLKATA: With Bollywood stars, cricketing greats and a slick marketing campaign, India’s new football league is gunning to become the next big thing in sport.
But just days before Sunday’s kick-off in the eastern city of Kolkata, the Indian Super League (ISL), which has lured a host of former international stars, is facing scepticism.
Some question the calibre of the league’s top players, who include veterans like the controversial French striker Nicolas Anelka and ex-Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg.
Others say the tournament cannot hope to gain traction in a cricket-obsessed country whose sporting authorities have long failed to cultivate passion for the “beautiful game”.
“They are has-beens, definitely not at the pinnacle of their careers,” said Dave Chattaway from British-based Brand Finance, referring to the marquee players.
“You can’t wheel out a well-known player for the last 20 minutes of a game and let them kick the ball a bit,” added Chattaway, who evaluates sports leagues worldwide.
“It has to be top-level sport, fiercely competitive, to attract the crowds,” he said, adding that he hoped the league would be a success.
Modelled on cricket’s glitzy Indian Premier League, the eight-team city-based franchises have famous frontmen, including former Italy great Alessandro Del Piero, 39, for the two-month long competition.
Co-owners include cricketing icon Sachin Tendukar, Bollywood A-listers Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor,as well as Atletico Madrid of Spain’s La Liga.
Cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced this week he has also signed as a co-owner, because he wanted to help create “world-class football” in India.