With less than a week remaining for the Hero Indian Super League (ISL), eight marquee players arrived in Mumbai on Sunday to attend a glittering ceremony to mark the unveiling of the ISL Trophy. The tournament is ready for next Sunday’s kick off, when Mumbai City FC takes on Atletico de Kolkata at Kolkata’s famed Salt Lake stadium. In a nation that suffers from a near neurotic obsession with cricket, the advent of quality football will be an immensely big moment. Ironically, the boost to world’s most popular sports is being engineered by a number of former cricket stars, whose amassed millions appear to be finding an investment opportunity. The cricket stars are not alone in the endeavor since they are enthusiastically joined by a crop of India’s top film stars as well. Whatever be the way, it was already high time that something was done to treat football on the same level as cricket.
Mumbai’s Trident hotel in upmarket Bandra-Kurla-Complex was witness to the gathering of famous football super stars from around the world as Nita Ambani, founder and chairperson of Football Sports Development unveiled an exquisite silverware that will become the Hero ISL trophy. The beautifully crafted trophy bears a striking resemblance to the European Champions League trophy and it will be handed over to the winner on December 20, 2014. The trophy has been designed by Frazer & Haws and it stands 26 inches tall with the logo on its top having ISL colors. The handles are ornately carved and embellished with 24k gold to bring out a sense of pride when held up.
The ISL is being organized by the All India Football Federation and the tournament has a solid support from India’s Reliance Industries, sports management giant IMG and Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV. On the momentous occasion, Mrs. Ambani was joined by marquee players of eight franchises, part of the inaugural ISL. These players and their ISL clubs are; Fredrik Ljungberg (Mumbai City FC), Alessandro Del Piero (Delhi Dynamos FC), Joan Capdevila (NorthEast United FC), David Trezeguet (FC Pune City), Robert Pires (FC Goa), Mika Silvestre (Chennaiyin FC), Luis Garcia (Atletico de Kolkata) and David James (Kerala Blasters FC). Speaking on the occasion, Ambani said ISL was an initiative that would revolutionize football in India. She added that India’s billion-plus people with interest in football only talk about the English Premier League, Bundesliga or the la Liga and it was time to change all that by building a system that would nurture talent and churn out football heroes from India. Nita Ambani also said that although the excitement on ISL was already on fever-pitch, India has only taken small baby steps. It would take a while before the dream of giving football its due is fully realized.
The Salt Lake stadium is the ideal venue to start ISL and work on giving it a facelift is expected to be completed before the kick-off on October 12. Atletico de Kolkata marquee player Luis Garcia is excited by the enthusiasm of the Kolkatans. In the same way, David James, manager and player for Kerala Blasters has also endeared himself to the Keralites in Kochi by taking lunch with owner Sachin Tendulkar on a banana leaf in a restaurant. James has bravely picked up local talent on the day; the Blasters unveiled their team jersey. Almost every marquee player feels the importance of team dynamics to achieve success. With very little time left to prepare, the players were busy building team culture to cope with pressure, they have to face for next month and a half..
Following on the footsteps of Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, India’s cricket captain MS Dhoni is the latest cricketer to acquire the ownership right of an ISL football team. He signed a deal to become a co-owner of Chennaiyin FC along with film star Abhishek Bachchan and Mrs. Vita Dani, Director of Dani Finlease Ltd. and Geetanjali Trading And Investments Pvt. Ltd. Seven years with Chennai Super Kings in IPL has made Dhoni a darling of Chennai and it was only proper that he threw his lot with the Chennai football franchise. Dhoni is confident that investor interest in football will help the country nurture the talent pool in the game and raise India’s status as a football playing nation.
One of the big riding platform of India’s upcoming football revolution is Rupert Murdoch’s wide-spread Star TV network in India. It is the exposure that is vital for promotion and changing people’s mind. Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer of Star India said that ISL and the associated money will make footballers in India compete for the ultimate honor. Gupta added that Hero Indian Super League will fuel the mass interest in football that could match cricket in the long run and Star TV is committed to bring the football action in people’s drawing rooms. In a population hooked on TV for entertainment, Star will contrive to make football enter people’s psyche on the same lines that cricket has done for decades.