Old grumblers on the return gather for a very last mission. Expendables, with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Almost: it’s a remake, with Robert Pirès, Nicolas Anelka and Alessandro Del Piero who take over the Indian championship with the delicate task of driving a country that vibrates above all for cricket crazy about football. And in three months. On your screens October 12. This is what it will look like.
The scenario: a mix between the NBA and the Champions League
The Indian Super League is a championship bringing together eight teams scattered across the country with a clever mix of stars (at least one per team), foreigners and local players. All the clubs were created for the occasion: Atletico Kolkota, located in Calcutta, is partly owned by Atletico Madrid. Some names are reminiscent of NBA franchises, such as the Kerala Blasters or the Chennai Titans. Others to Soviet clubs, such as Dynamo Delhi.
The producers: long-toothed billionaires
The competition was born thanks to the funds of the sports marketing company IMG, the Indian group Reliance, and the interest of Star TV, the main Indian channel, owned by the famous Australian-American magnate Rupert Murdoch. The format of the competition is nothing original: it is a barely hidden copy-paste of the Indian Premier League, a private cricket competition which is played over three months and generates considerable profits. And also a remake of the previous private league project, the Premier Soccer League, built at the end of 2012, with the Frenchman Robert Pirès already in the lead. A project abandoned for lack of funds.
The ambition: to get a place behind cricket
Indians love football. The Indian Football Association estimates that there are more viewers of the English Premier League in India than in the United Kingdom (it must be said that India has 1.2 billion inhabitants). Interviewed by Sports Business InternationalSepp Blatter, the boss of world football, called India a “sleeping giant” football, then “new market”. Only the journalist who interviewed him knows if the Fifa boss’s eyes have turned into a dollar symbol, like in the comics. “The goal is to become the second sport that the country has been waiting for for so long”, says Uday Shankar, of the Star India channel. At the moment, it’s… field hockey that holds that title.
The cast: 20% star grandpas, 80% anonymous
The promoters of this championship had sold dreams: “There is a high probability that Thierry Henry, David Beckham or Raul will play in the Indian Super League”they claimed at IMG in 2013, note New Indian Express. None came. Ronaldinho gave up, preferring to engage with a Mexican team. Instead of the expected megastars, Alessandro Del Piero (39), star of Juventus Turin for a decade, David Trezeguet (36) or Robert Pirès (40) – retired for two years – are the gondola heads of the championship (for a salary of 1.1 million euros for three months for Del Piero, half for Pirès, according to the Times of India). Excellent players, but not rock stars capable of triggering passions.
Local players and a contingent of anonymous foreign footballers, unknown to the general public, complete the teams. Without insulting them, it is only Ligue 1 fans to whom the names of Cédric Hengbart, Bernard Mendy or Apoula Edel mean something.
The real cast: in the stands
The real stars of the Indian Super League will not be on the pitch at the start of October. But in the presidential gallery. Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, practically a demi-god in India, has invested in one of the eight teams, just like the cream of Bollywood. They are the ones who fascinate the crowds: when Sachin Tendulkar went to the Kochi stadium, several thousand people tried to approach him.
Some Indian entrepreneurs have also gone there with their checks. But not the best known of them, Lakshmi Mittal, yet a football lover sincehe owns a third of the shares of the London club of Queens Park Rangers.
The competition: moribund
Something unprecedented in football: the Indian federation has scuttled the regular championship, the I-League, to make room for the Indian Soccer League. The I-League was already in bad shape: several major clubs in the country such as Mahindra United, the most prestigious club in Bombay, or JCT FC, the best club in the north of the country, disappeared at the end of the 2000s. IMG, the promoter of the Indian Soccer League, has made its market in the players of the championship to retain 80 of them. The others are on technical unemployment until December, when the resumption of the I-League, which has been staggered so as not to compete with the ISL. “Any injection of money into Indian football can’t hurt. The league can’t be in worse shape than it is now.”notes, fatalistic, the former international Chuni Goswami, quoted by Bloomberg (in English).
The public: demanding
When, a few weeks ago, Zico – yes, the brilliant Brazilian footballer of the 1980s – landed at the airport of Goa, ready to coach the home team, no traveler looked up from his diary. Not an autograph hunter or enamored groupie, not a curious onlooker or a collector of selfies. The only ones who fight to be in the picture, they are the representatives of the federation of the state of Goa. As a welcome gift, six unfortunate wreaths and a horde of reporters, reports the Times of India (in English).
As bluntly summarized Chuni Goswamicaptain of the national team in the 1960s, at the site of Bloomberg (in English), “the organizers may have difficulty filling the stadiums”. Especially with enthusiasts bottle-fed at the Premier League since their earliest childhood: “The fans the youngest have grown up with the English championship, the league or the Bundesliga. They won’t settle for anything worse.”prophesies the former international Satyajit Chatterjee in L’International Business Times (in English).
The box office: uncertain
One of the main criticisms addressed to the defunct Premier Soccer League was the pharaonic ticket prices. The organizers of the ISL have (slightly) rectified the situation, with tickets all the same four times more expensive than a classic local championship match. Nevertheless, it is not sure that the fans jostle in the bleachers of freshly renovated stadiums. What Bhargab Sarmah, Indian football specialist, summarizes on the Huffington Post British (in English) : “The tickets we are being sold will do more good for Rupert Murdoch’s bank account than Indian football.”
The trailer: Hollywood