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Millions Spent as India Buys International Soccer Stars

Indian Premier League Soccer Kicks Off On February 25

Feb. 1 – Following the massive success of the Indian Premier League Cricket, the same formula – where provincial teams can bid at auction for foreign players and coaches – has just been repeated in the inaugural Indian Premier League Soccer (PLS). Famous and well-established stars such as Argentinian international Hernán Crespo, Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires, Jay-Jay Okocha and former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler were all auctioned for prices ranging from US$840,000 for Crespo to US$500,000 for Fowler.

Five franchises collectively spent nearly US$7 million, each buying an “icon” player, two overseas footballers, and a coach.

“This auction is unprecedented not only in the history of Indian football but also for world football,” said Bhaswar Goswami, the executive director of the Celebrity Management Group (CMG) which is organizing the league. “There is an expenditure cap and I must say that the franchises wisely spent their money.”

Hernan Crespo - The PLS' most expensive soccer player

In an otherwise cricket-crazy country, the state of West Bengal is equally passionate about football. Nearly 120,000 fans gave a rousing reception to Oliver Kahn in the German goalkeeper’s 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in Kolkata and Diego Maradona almost brought the city to a standstill during his visit the same year. Howrah will boast PLS’ most expensive coach after shelling out US$225,000 for the former Portugal central defender Fernando Couto. Former Manchester City, Leeds United and Sunderland manager Peter Reid went to Kolkata for US$200,000.

The tournament itself runs for seven weeks from February 25, 2012. All franchises are taking part, and are made up of Kolkata, Siliguri, Howrah, Haldia, Barasat and Durgapur. The franchise contracts are for 10 years and spending at the auction for players and coaches was capped at US$2.5 million. Goswami also said that CMG is in talks with television companies about broadcasting rights within West Bengal and throughout India, South Asia and in Europe. Even though their best footballing days are undoubtedly behind them, the likes of Cannavaro, Crespo, Fowler and Pires will certainly add some much-needed stardust to the fledgling league.

“If you have stars of this category playing for your city, surely it starts to generate interest,” said Goswami.

However, Indian Premier League Soccer – like the cricket IPL – has rules that ensure local players get time on the pitch. Each franchise will have to sign at least six players from the local catchment area, while six must also be under 21 years old. The remainder can be from anywhere in India, and a squad – which ranges from 25 to 30 players – can’t have more than four foreign players. If a local player or an under-21 member of a squad is ruled out, he can be replaced, but it must be a like-for-like exchange. So if a local player is replaced, he has to be substituted for another local player.

Goswami stated that there are plans to expand the PLS beyond West Bengal to other football strongholds in India, such as Goa and Kerala “maybe next year.” Pires, a former Arsenal midfielder, claimed that he would be paid at least €395,000 (US$516,000) for seven weeks and said he was excited to embark on a new adventure.

“Since I had nothing in Europe, why not try something completely unknown? I’ve never been over there,” Pires told the L’Equipe’s web site. “I am proud to be the first Frenchman to go and play there. And eight weeks is nothing. If my (club) president likes me, it could be €790,000 (US$1 million). It is a lot of money. I’m not going to complain about that am I? But I’m not going there as a tourist. It’s a new adventure.”

More details of the teams, coaches and international players involved can be found here. intends to support Kolkata, where Dezan Shira & Associates has a regional office.

Related Reading

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Indian IPL Teams Now Worth More than English Premier League Clubs

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The Ten Sporting Things You Can Get in China You Can’t Get in India

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