One on One with: Terry Phelan

There is a lot of talk about Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold being the definition of the modern day fullback. The media seems intent in pointing out that Arnold and his counterpart on the left hand side of Liverpool’s defence, Andy Robertson are revolutionizing football by becoming modern day wingbacks. It seems to them that this role is new, that the Liverpool duo are doing something remarkable, something never seen before but in truth it’s been done for years.

Indeed the Premier League has witness some fantastic examples of attacking fullbacks. Players like Tony Dorigo, Warren Barton, Stuart Pearce, Lee Dixon, Graeme Le Saux , Ashley Cole and our latest One On One guest Terry Phelan were all attacking full backs who could run all day, provide that extra dimension to the attack but also defend. When we chatted recently about the overuse of the modern day terminology, Phelan laughed and said “i was doing that 30 years ago”. And he was.

Those who caught Phelan in action either for one of his many clubs (Leeds, Wimbledon, Man City, Everton, Chelsea etc) or for his country (Republic of Ireland) remember him most for those lung busting runs up the touchline to deliver a cross or racing back to thwart an opposition attack. He was the modern day full back that Arnold and Robertson are replicating today. Currently Phelan is taking everything that he learned as a player and using it to enhance and move the game forward in his new home in India. He has a big job on his hands currently but as he revealed to us in a fantastic interview his thoughts are always back in Ireland and would one day like to work there developing their next generation. We also talked about life in the Crazy gang, what it was like playing for Ruud Gullit and that win for Ireland over Italy at the 1994 World Cup. Enjoy!

Exclusive: One on One Interview with Terry Phelan.

You can follow Terry on Instagram.

Interview contributions by Rob Latham. Follow him on Twitter.

Inside Football in India – What next for the I-League clubs?

One more year gone. One more season of I-League is over, amidst uncertainty of its future. Chennai City FC became the new Champions. But before they play their final match and celebrate their title, there were news reports going round with quotes from I-League CEO Sunando Dhar saying this was the last ever season of I-League, from next season Indian Super League (ISL) will be the new top division of the country. Seems like AIFF has finally decided to put an end to the 5- year long two-league saga. No one knows how AIFF is going to do this. Will they merge I-League & ISL, or ISL will get expanded by adding only East Bengal & Mohun Bagan?

Before we get into this, let’s first take a look at how football ecosystem works and where I-League & ISL are placed in that context.

A league is one that takes care of ALL stakeholders, either big or small. One that is fair and just has a same level playing field for football clubs from all the regions. There needs to be a proper pipeline. A proper structure that can provide a pathway for any club from any part of country to one day make it to the top tier.

For now, I-League is the only national league in India which works on this principle. The 2nd Division league champions win promotion to top division every year. The team who finishes last in the top division is relegated to the 2nd Division. Though in last 2 years, the relegated teams got reinstated back for different reasons, they have never blocked the way for new 2nd division champions. These new clubs bring new pool of players & new fans from their localities. And these clubs has kept I-League alive and fresh despite facing all the odds.

While ISL is a franchise-based league. It works like many other leagues in India (IPL, PBL, PVL, PWL, ProKabaddi etc), where Highest bidders get to play. It doesn’t have promotion-relegation system.

It’s understandable, in other sports, we didn’t have club structure in place. But in football, we have had clubs playing in two divisions of the I-League. ISL was created as a separate tournament with new teams, outside of the existing league structure.

NKXR-YH1mhLVJ8ge

In 2014, @praful_patel reassured us that #ILeague will be the “League of India”, ISL was just a “booster dose” and that some ISL clubs were in talks to “progress to the I-League”. If lying and deception decided FIFA rankings, we’d be no.1 (on merit).
Tweet by Akarsh Sharma (@Akarsh_Official)

In 2010, IMG-Reliance became the marketing partner of AIFF and in 2014 they brought a new league cum tournament that is ISL. I-League & ISL were running in a separate window periods till 2017. In 2017, ISL got reorganized by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as a national knockout cup tournament and from then, ISL is running simultaneously alongside I-League.

AFC report from last year, where it has clearly mentioned Chennaiyin FC (winner of ISL) as a National Knock-out Cup Champion.

ISL teams knew if they played in same league with other I-League clubs, they might not succeed. So they established their brands by playing in their own separate tournament. Good players moved to ISL because of better salaries. That was not a problem. But problem started when AIFF (under pressure from Reliance) began to treat I-League like a second-fiddle competition in spite of it being the top division. I-League matches got piss poor & irregular telecast. And Because of all the attention towards ISL in last 5 years, It has systematically drained the resources & sponsorships of small I-League clubs. It would never happen if all the I-League & ISL clubs were playing in the same league. Due to lack of clear roadmap for the future, Some I-League clubs pulled out, while many kept playing & kept producing good players & providing them to ISL.

Gradually, Reliance have taken full control over every activity of the national federation (AIFF). They now working as an agency, where if clubs pay them money, they get to play in the league & Reliance will arrange everything for them. They convinced Asian Football Confederation to give one AFC Cup slot to ISL. For that Reliance had to let go the full control over its teams, but still they have kept control over players & coaches recruitment & many other things via Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), which is run by Reliance personnel. Last year, IMG exited from FSDL stating “IMG is focused on delivering services globally and it didn’t want to own the league.”

For a club to join the top flight, the FSDL have to approve it and if they reject it then that’s it. No other recourse. It’s all up to the whims and fancies of a single entity. There is no accountability.

WHAT NOW?

Reliance want ISL as a top division. But ISL teams have 10 years contract with them which also includes ‘One City One Team’ rule, means exclusivity of a team over a particular city for 10 years. Though Reliance is now ready to include more teams, but they are asking hefty franchise-fees from the I-League clubs. Small budget I-League can’t afford that. And even if they afford, why would they give money to Reliance? They already are a top division clubs and most of them reach the top by winning promotion from the 2nd Division. If Reliance don’t change their stand, all the current I-League top division clubs (except EB & MB) may get forcefully demoted to the new 2nd Division. That is unfair in every aspect.

There is no guarantee they will open the league even after next 5 years.

Our national federation can’t do anything, they have sold all their rights to Reliance. Tired of all this, I-League Clubs have wrote a letter to AFC to intervene. I-League are ready to play with ISL teams in the same new league.

Perhaps, ISL teams are still afraid of the competition from these small I-League clubs.

If ISL becomes top division & if there won’t be promotion & relegation, top division teams will take their top division status for granted, while lower division clubs will be restricted to academic purpose only. What will be the motivation for these lower division clubs? What they would play for? Why people would support theses clubs knowing they won’t get promoted even if they win, only to see them playing in the same division again & again? Why any investor would invest in the lower division? It will not be a pyramid it is supposed to be. New Top Division (ISL) will remain a separate entity from the other two divisions. Same teams will keep playing against each other at top. Indian Football will become stagnant. Lower division clubs will eventually die due to lake of opportunities. If these clubs die, club football will die in India.

Think about the clubs from far outskirts of the country who are dreaming to reach the top & make it big one day. If ISL never ever open bidding from the cities where these clubs are operating in, They will never get a chance to play at top despite capable of beating top teams. What about their dreams?

Enter a Bengaluru FC vs Churchill Brothers, Kanteerava Stadium | April 29, 2017

League is about competition. And if small clubs can beat the big clubs with better facilities & players, they deserve their spot in the top division. Clubs who can’t compete will eventually get relegated at the end of the season. Big clubs can’t/ shouldn’t throw them out only because they are small.

If ISL wants to become top division, it must need to become inclusive for all. ISL teams must have to prove their superiority by playing in the same league with the I-League clubs. They can’t call themselves better by playing in a separate tournament.

Recently, Sunil Chhetri & Bhaichung Bhutia have come in support of the small clubs & put a weight on the need to continue pro/rel.

DzgKFt5V4AA6hSb

The Field@thefield_in
Smaller Indian clubs must be taken into account while making future plans: Sunil Chhetri | @ArkaTweets10 reports.
Read: https://scroll.in/field/a/913470 

 

tj3PSObM

TOI Sports News@TOISportsNews
Big question mark over ISL’s future if I-League clubs are ignored: Bhaichung Bhutia http://toi.in/Nu7Nna

In a country obsessed with franchise-based leagues, the I-League was the only relief.

Now when ISL is all set to become the new top division, it remains to be seen whether it will adopt the I-League philosophy or it will remain that same boring closed league.

Article by Dharak Makwana. Follow him on Twitter and at Sportsbieindia

One on One with: David Robertson

For any manager, moving to a foreign country that you know little about can be a challenge. Going in, having to build a team from scratch and being successful in your first season is almost impossible. But for former Scotland defender David Robertson it has become reality. The Aberdeen, Rangers and Leeds left back moved to India at the start of 2017 and transformed the fortunes of Real Kashmir FC by guiding them to the league title and promotion to India’s top league. It’s a million miles away from where it all started for him as a marauding full back in some of the most successful sides in Scottish football in the 80’s and 90’s.

We chatted to David recently to find out more about his career, his adventures in the US and how he masterminded that title success in his debut season as a manager in India.

Back Of The Net: You broke through into the first team at Aberdeen in 1987, aged 17, and played in a defence that included Alex McLeish, Willie Miller and Stewart McKimmie. How much did that trio of players help you learn your trade as a defender in those early days? Miller was described by Alex Ferguson as the best penalty box defender in the world. Would you agree with that statement?

David Robertson: Yes, Willie Miller was a great penalty box defender but his reading of the game was incredible. He and Alex McLeish were incredible to play alongside and with me being 17 playing regularly they were a huge help. Willie was the grumpy one that would shout at me, Alex was the encouraging one, and between the two they both helped me with their different styles of helping me. Stewart McKimmie was great too and helped me as a young player and gave me advice on how to handle being a young player in a top team both on and off the pitch. Two players that really helped me on my early days was Peter Weir and Billy Stark. They often gave me advice on how to get better; Peter encouraged me to forward and overlap him, and he would fill in for me. As a young player I made mistakes and he always encouraged me.

gw736h483

Playing for Aberdeen, Robertson outpaces Paul McStay of Celtic (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Aberdeen had some tremendous players during those years you spent there including Jim Bett, Jim Leighton, Eion Jess and Hans Guilhaus to name a few. Is there someone who really stood out at that time, who you learned from the most?

DR: Ability wise and being underestimated Jim Bett was an incredible player, he never gave the ball away and his vision was incredible. He used his body so well to keep possession.

BOTN: In 1991, you transferred to Rangers and became an important part of the club who won nine titles in a row. You also picked up six domestic cups and played in the Champions League. It was your most successful and consistent spell as a player. How enjoyable was it playing for the club at that time? How difficult was it as a team to maintain the same performance levels season after season as you closed in on nine in a row?

DR: I always say about my time at Rangers in a very successful era was that I took it for granted and I wish I could re-live it and appreciate the experience. It was a great time, fun and very successful. I think winning what we did tended to be more of a relief than enjoyable. At Rangers at the time every game you had to win, every cup and championship you had to win. Many players go through their career not winning anything and some one or two trophies. I won 14 national trophies in Scotland and I wish I enjoyed them more. I look back now and I think what a career I had and how lucky I was.

BOTN: How difficult was it as a team to maintain the same performance levels season after season as you closed in on nine in a row?

DR: I found it personally easy to motivate for each season. I took each game as a bonus as I knew at the time Rangers could buy anyone to replace me. I think Walter Smith was great as he kept adding 2 or 3 top players each season to keep the hunger and competition for places high.

Robertson keeps an eye on Celtic's John Collins during an Old Firm derby (Image from Tumblr)

Robertson keeps an eye on Celtic’s John Collins during an Old Firm derby (Image from Tumblr)

 

BOTN: Former Rangers captain Richard Gough said that the team that drank together, won together. How important was it to the success of the club that the players bonded away from the training ground? Do you believe that is still the case today that a club that is close off the pitch will have success on it?

DR: It was so important, we had some great characters that made it enjoyable and fun to go to work. McCoist, Ian Ferguson and Ian Durrant made this dressing room lively. I think it was the fact that there were big name players there but no one thought nor acted like they were better than any other player. We had some great times on and off the field.

Over the years coaching I find the team bond and togetherness is the secret for success and that is how we won the I league 2 and how were are doing so well. You can have the best players in the world but if there is no team spirit it is tough to be successful. Look at Leicester City who had a real team spirit and belief. Look at Liverpool. You just have to watch Jürgen Klopp to see he has a happy team. He is a lively character and it rubs off on the players, and that is how they are winning: through a happy environment.

BOTN: Where would you place Walter Smith in terms of the best managers you have worked for? Do you think your management style mirrors his in any way?

DR: Yes, Walter Smith without a doubt, he had everyone playing for him and Archie Knox. His man management was incredible, kept everyone happy and was never ruffled and never showed he was carrying any pressure to the players. He was the same all the time. Would have a go at you if you deserved it. I had Archie for a long part of my career at Aberdeen and Rangers. Alex Ferguson was great also when I was 14 until I was 18 when he left for Manchester United but I was probably too young to appreciate his qualities

BOTN: A move to England followed with Leeds being your destination. Injuries however ravaged your time there and forced you to eventually retire. Was that a bitter way to end your playing career?

DR: I was excited about playing in the Premiership (Premier League), but after the first season I had a serious knee injury, and for the next 18 months I tried to make a comeback but there was too much damage in my knee. I was more disappointed that I did not play longer in the Premiership, but I enjoyed my time there. We stayed three more years in Yorkshire, as we loved the place and we have a lot of good friends there.

I started so young in the first team at Aberdeen and played a lot of games. They say on average a player will play around 500 pro games. I was just short of that so I can’t be too disappointed.

1fabf62f6300-600x338

David’s time in England with Leeds was hampered by a bad knee injury (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Surprisingly you made only three appearances for Scotland at senior level during your career. Why do you think this was? You surely offered a different option at left back than Tom Boyd or Maurice Malpas.

DR: It was frustrating that I did not play more for Scotland but I feel looking back on my career I would not change anything. At the time I was frustrated but playing for Rangers during the spell made up for it, as we played big games almost every week. To put the record straight the coaches at the time both Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown did a fantastic job and I have no complaints about not having more appearances. Those two led Scotland to the country’s last visits to major championships. At the time I decided I did not want to be a bit part or travel all over the world to sit in a stand or sit on a bench.

It may sound ungrateful or big headed, but I just wanted to focus on playing for Rangers and I felt being away and not playing would affect my confidence at Rangers. I knew Rangers could sign anyone they wanted so I had to be at my best to remain on the team. Anyone that knows me knows I’m not a big-headed person and that I’m down to earth and very reserved.

BOTN: After retiring you began your career in management with stints at Elgin and Montrose. You resigned from Elgin after four months as manager following a failed takeover bid of the club by Kenny Black. Did you believe your position was untenable after that failed bid?

DR: I was at Elgin for close to 3 years. At the time the takeover sounded exciting. I felt at the time the club maybe lacked ambition but years on when you take the passion (to do well) out of the situation, it was probably the best thing for the club to go it alone. There is not too much ability to sustain the ambition of a small club as it would need one individual to fund the club and that model is not sustainable long term. You just have to look at Gretna. At the time I did feel I could not continue. Maybe in hindsight I was too rash in my decision but at the time I believed in the opportunity for the club to progress.

BOTN: Eventually you moved to Phoenix where you stayed for ten years before moving to India. What drew you to the US and what did you gain from your time there?

DR: I enjoyed living in Phoenix as it’s where my children spent most of their lives and it’s a very fond place that we as a family love. After being at Montrose and Elgin City I did feel disillusioned with Scottish football which at the time what I thought was narrow minded and had no ambition. I felt it was time to move. But in reality, those clubs are for the local people to support and the custodians have a duty to be realistic and loyal to the local community. During my time there as a coach it made me the coach I am today.

I coached 3 teams so I had 12 training sessions per week and between 4 and 14 games per weekend so I could change things on the fly and experiment in real games which many coaches have one game per weekend and don’t have the bottle to change things. I eventually ran the whole club from managing 60 coaches, pay roll, board meetings, finances etc. I learned so much.

Robertson holds court at Phoenix FC try outs (Image from Rangers)

Robertson holds court at Phoenix FC try outs (Image from Rangers)

BOTN: It was in Phoenix that you met businessman Robert Sarver who attempted to buy Rangers after your recommendation. Do you think that was a missed opportunity by the club and are you surprised to see that he bought RCD Mallorca in the Spanish second division after his move for Rangers failed to materialize?

DR: I do think it was a big miss from Rangers, but the passion of supporters and board members/ shareholders were maybe concerned with an outsider taking control which I can understand. But I know Robert well and he is committed and has the opinion even though he is the owner, he is only a custodian and knows that the fans and shareholders vote with their feet no matter how much money an individual puts in. But I know he would have made the club back to where it was and push it on. He has invested vast sums of money into Real Mallorca.

BOTN: Let’s talk about your move to India. It’s quite a transition from Phoenix, Arizona to Srinagar, which is in Kashmir close to the border with Pakistan. How did that move come about? Did you have any hesitations in making that move given the stability of that region?

DR: I was approached by an agent. I had offers from China, Uganda and Real Kashmir. I chose Real Kashmir as it was a new club with no expectation and no vision, so I could start afresh and stamp my mark on it. To be honest I did no homework on India let alone Kashmir and I went into it blind.

BOTN: It’s an incredible achievement to win promotion in your debut season as manager but to do so with a club that was only formed 2 years previously makes it even more impressive. What do you put down as the reason behind that success?

DR: As I had to built a team a club basically from scratch in a county I was not familiar with, every player had to buy into what I was doing. I feel we play to the level of players we have and not try to play like Manchester City or Barcelona. Too many coaches I see around the world want to play pretty football with players that are not comfortable doing it. We are fitter than any team we have faced. I have taken a lot of the fitness exercises from my coach from Elgin and Montrose, Davy Johnston. Again, too many coaches rely on sports science which, some of it works, but players have to be mentally tough and keep going when other teams are tired. This is through real tough running sessions, to keep them going.

BOTN: Given all that you achieved as a player, how does that title rank amongst everything else you have won?

DR: It’s my greatest achievement in football for sure mainly because on the field every decision was mine and as the coach you are fully responsible for everything. As a player on a winning team you are only a small part of it.

Robertson (centre) walks his side through tactics during a Real Kashmir training session (Image from Tumblr)

Robertson (centre) walks his side through tactics during a Real Kashmir training session (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Football in India is having some serious issues with the I-League (Indian League) under threat following the decision not to broadcast 30 of the season’s games. There are also concerns about the financial stability of teams playing in the ISL (Indian Super League) and talk of those clubs potentially being moved into the I-League. It seems like a complex issue. How do you interpret what is going on and what do you see as the resolution?

DR: It’s tough to know what will happen because in India many decisions are last minute so it won’t be clear for some time. I do think the I-League is more exciting to watch and be a part of. The ISL games in my opinion are like exhibition games and lacks the passion.

BOTN: In a recent interview, you stated that the talent levels in India are high but it’s the lack of information that is holding football back. What did you mean by this? 

DR: I feel in Kashmir the talk is there but the players got no exposure until now. I do feel the influx of foreign players has helped the Indian players not only on the pitch but also off the pitch. As a result the players are now more professional than before. I have seen a big change in my two years here. It’s a bit like the USA in that it will take some time.

BOTN: Your son Mason has recently signed for the club and has hit the ground running. How far do you believe he can go in his career and how good does it feel to have him in India now with you?

DR: Mason can play multiple positions and, in my opinion, can play for any team in Scotland. He had managed to get himself so fit by being full time. He has lost over 18lbs as well. I think his stint in the USA in college soccer was not good in the telescope of fitness and physical training as I think it was geared more for American football. But having said that, he has worked so hard and it’s attracting a lot of attention from ISL and other Asian clubs. He has gaming pace and is one of the top players on this league.

Like Father, Like Son - Davis with his son, Mason (Image from Tumblr)

Like Father, Like Son – Davis with his son, Mason (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Finally, some quick hits. Best player you played with?

DR: At Rangers Brian Laudrup, just because I made the runs and 9 times out of 10 he gave me the ball, he was an incredible talent. Also Ian Ferguson, in my opinion was the most underrated Rangers player. I thought he was immense. At Aberdeen it has to be Peter Weir and at Leeds United it was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

BOTN: Hardest opponent to mark?

DR: You will find this hard to believe as I have played against Di Canio, Beckham, Giggs, Overmars, and Del Piero, but the player I struggled against the most was Ivo den Beiman. I first played against him in a pre-season game for Aberdeen against Montrose. He was at Montrose and he destroyed me. He seemed to follow me all over. He went to Dundee, Dunfermline and I seemed to always be playing against him. In one game I read he signed for Dunfermline and we were playing them the next day. I thought, “oh not him”. I don’t know what it was about him but I struggled every time against him.

BOTN: Who in your opinion is the outstanding Indian player in I-League right now?

DR: I’m not being biased but Mason is one of the top players. We also have a 6ft 7in striker (that teams can’t play against). There are many top foreign players here. As far as Indian players there is a player called Jobby Justin who in my opinion is the best Indian striker at present.

BOTN: Where do you see yourself in five years? Still managing in India?

DR: I would like to at some point coach in the UK but it’s tough to break in there. But Asia is great and I have enjoyed it and been looked after well. I have a good name here and won the AFC Coach of the Year so my reputation is high here.

BOTN: Thanks David and good luck for the rest of the season.

To find out more about David’s journey in India, check out the fantastic article in CNN or catch the BBC documentary “Real Kashmir FC” featuring David now on the IPlayer. You can also follow David’s progress on Linkedin and Twitter

Share your thoughts and follow us now on FacebookTwitter Instagram

Goal Celebration Ends In Tragedy With The Death Of Player

Tragic - Peter Biaksangzuala (Image from PA)Goal celebrations are a fairly new affair having only started in the past few decades. Previously players celebrated with a hearty handshake or pat on the back but in recent years this has changed into elaborate expressions of joy and exuberance.  Whilst a majority of these new celebrations are risk free, a few players have started to show more dramatic and acrobatic celebrations like somersaults and back flips. Ireland’s Robbie Keane and Portugal’s Nani are two examples of players who use their training from junior years in athletics to dazzling effects. However in a tragic case in India, one such celebration went tragically wrong with the worst outcome.

Nani celebrates a goal whilst playing for Manchester United  (Image from Getty)

Nani celebrates a goal whilst playing for Manchester United
(Image from Getty)

Bethlehem Vengthland midfielder Peter Biaksangzuala died after landing awkwardly while performing a somersault shortly after scoring in a Indian league match against Chanmari West. In the fall he severely damaged his spinal chord and sadly died in hospital five days later. At 23 years old, his death shocked Indian football and has has a detrimental effect on his teammates who are struggling to cope with the passing of their close friend. It was not the first time that Biaksangzuala had performed this acrobatic manoeuvre so his teammates were used to seeing it. However this time as he landed heavily and failed to get back up quickly, they realized something was horribly wrong and called on the medical team to come help him. Despite efforts on the pitch and subsequent treatment at a nearby hospital, nothing could be done with the player slipping away later that week. His club has been quick to retire his number 21 shirt in tribute to their fallen player.

Biaksangzuala's somersault ends in tragic circumstances  (Image from AFP)

Biaksangzuala’s somersault ends in tragic circumstances
(Image from AFP)

His death has prompted questions and debate on whether FIFA could get involved to prevent further tragedies by introducing limitations on what players can do during celebrations. Currently players can be booked for removing their jerseys, covering their faces with a mask or encroaching onto the crowd however as yet no further guidelines have been structured. FIFA has reiterated that any changes to the rules can be submitted by a country’s FA but needs the approval of the International Football Association Board (IFAB).  Enforcing a new policy would fall to the referees but in the case of Biasksangzuala the referee was powerless to prevent such an incident from happening. It may be down to the clubs as employers to enforce a policy in order to protect their assets but as yet it hasn’t become an issue that clubs take note of. Perhaps now though, the tragic and shocking death of such a young and talented player will make them reconsider this and act quickly in order to prevent another player from dying on the pitch from simply celebrating a goal.

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

India Gears Up For Football Frenzy With ISL Kick Off

India gets set for ISL inaugral season (Image from Getty)

In just over a month’s time, the inaugural season of the Indian Super League is set to begin with anticipation in the country reaching fever pitch. The league, which comprises of eight teams, was founded last year in a bid to make football into one of the top sports in India and put the country firmly on the international footballing map. Set up to run similar to the MLS, the league operates based on a franchise system in an attempt to get some of India’s wealthiest individuals to participate and back it. The idea has worked with Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham and Ranbir Kapoor joining cricketing legends Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar in taking out stakes in the clubs. They are supported by some of India’s biggest companies such as DEN Networks and Videocon who have added financial clout to the projects. Associations with clubs across Europe have also been established with Spanish champions Atletico Madrid, Italian side Fiorentina and Dutch giants Feyenoord partnering with individual clubs, offering them technical support and guidance in the development of the team over the next few years. With a sponsor in the form of Hero Motorcorp coming on board (effectively renaming the league the Hero Indian Super League) and a TV network (Star Sports) committing to broadcast the games, the league was established with all that remained was to build the squads.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar is backing the league  (Image from Getty)

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar is backing the league
(Image from Getty)

Each squad would comprise of 22 players with a minimum of 14 Indian players in each one in order to protect and grow the national identity of the league. A further rule of having four players from the city that the team was based in was also created to instill regional pride in its teams and allow fans to cheer on local heroes. The remaining 8 players could be signed from anywhere in the globe with each team allowed to select only one as their marquee or star player. Two drafts were introduced, one held in late July for only Indian players which included the entire Indian national team and a second weeks later for foreign players. India midfielder Lenny Rodrigues became the first player selected by FC Pune City and will go down in the record books as the first ISL player in history. However it was the selection of the foreign players that has attracted the most interest from the global press. A host of well known names were amongst the draft including former Newcastle striker Michael Chopra, French defender Bernard Mendy, Spanish striker Jofre Mateu, Swedish midfielder Bojan Djordjic and Canadian international Iain Hume. Michael Chopra was the first player selected in a move that excited the former Ipswich striker. He is keen to move to India in order to gain his citizenship so that he can fulfill his dream of playing international football for India. England born Chopra qualifies through his grandparents who hail from the country. With the drafts completed the last thing that remained was for each club to select its marquee player and the manager.

Lenny Rodrigues was the first player selected in the ISL draft  (Image from PA)

Lenny Rodrigues was the first player selected in the ISL draft
(Image from PA)

Atlético de Kolkata was the first team to make its move appointing Antonio López Habas as its new manager and signing former Liverpool and Atletico Madrid winger Luis Garcia as its marquee player. Not to be outdone, Guwahati side Northeast United revealed 2010 Spanish World Cup winner Joan Capdevila as their star player, hiring former New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert as their new coach. FC Pune City responded by bringing in Italian Franco Colomba as their manager and World Cup winning striker David Trezeguet whilst Delhi Dynamos FC opted for Dutch coach Harm Van Veldhoven and Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero as their choices. Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters FC surprised many by selecting former England goalkeeper David James as both their new manager and marquee signing, who at 44 years old becomes the league’s oldest player. James will be joined in the league by fellow countryman Peter Reid who along with assistant Steve Darby have agreed to manage Mumbai City FC. Having previously coached in Asia with the Thailand national team, the 58 year old has experience working in the region and is looking forward to the challenge. His first job will be to select a marquee player as Mumbai are one of three teams still to do so. The other two teams are FC Goa, who will be managed by Brazilian legend Zico and the Abhishek Bachchan owned Chennai Titans, who are yet to appoint a manager or marquee player but have been linked heavily with Brazilian Ronaldinho. The former Barca star is on the lookout for a new club after leaving Atlético Mineiro and the chance to play in India may appeal. A move looks likely given that the only other club to make a formal bid for the player has been Basingstoke Town. The audacious move by the English Conference South side is likely just a PR stunt but contact has been made with the player’s agent and an offer tabled.

David James will be player manager of Kerala Blasters FC  (Image from ISL)

David James will be player manager of Kerala Blasters FC
(Image from ISL)

Regardless of whether Ronaldinho joins or not, the inaugural Hero Indian Super League kicks off on the 12th October with the match between Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC. The season runs only until the end of December as in a move designed to encourage high sustained viewing figures, the league is taking a different format to its matches with a game being played almost every day from October to the end of the year. With interest in football in India at a record high during this summer’s World Cup, league organizers are hoping to capitalize on this hunger for the sport and make it as popular as cricket is. Like the MLS’ debut season, much will rest on the quality of the football on show and less so on the spectacle. Time will tell if the league has the sustainability that league like the MLS and Australian A- League have or whether India will have to go back to the drawing board once again in order to finally join footballs elite leagues.

For more info on the league, check out the official ISL website: http://www.indiansuperleague.com/

Share your thoughts with us now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog