Former Barclays Premier League players Robbie Fowler, Hernan Crespo and Robert Pires are set to star in a league with a similar name but a very different history: Premier League Soccer (PLS) in India.
The competition’s inaugural player auction was held on Tuesday morning with Argentine legend Crespo emerging with top billing among a host of semi-retired world stars bought to play in the new football tournament.
Crespo was picked up for an annual salary of $840,000 by the Barasat franchise to play alongside district-level players over seven weeks in the proposed Premier League Soccer (PLS).
Italy’s World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro went for S830,000 to Siliguri, Pires fetched $800,000 from Howrah, Nigerian Jay Jay Okocha got $550,000 from Durgapur and Fowler was sold to Kolkata for $530,000.
FormerArgentinacaptain Juan Pablo Sorin, the sixth ‘icon’ player, was not named in the list of auctioned players released by the promoters Celebrity Management Group (CMG).
The tournament – brainchild of football officials in the eastern state ofWest Bengal- is a franchise-based event on the lines of cricket’s popular Indian Premier League.
Organisers said the dates of the tournament will be announced early next month, although they had earlier pencilled in a possible February 25 start.
The five city franchises will play each other twice on a home-and-away basis with the top four qualifying for the semi-finals.
The tournament is an attempt to fuel growing interest in football in cricket-mad India, which is ranked a lowly 158th in the world.
Each of the franchises will be coached by well-known names, who were also auctioned on Monday.
Portugese coach Fernando Couto was sold to Howrah for S240,000, former Manchester City manager Peter Reid went for $200,000 to Kolkata, while Bolivian Marco Etcheverry was picked up by Siliguri for $200,000.
Nigerian coach Samson Siasia fetched $US210,000 fromDurgapur, the same amount Teitur Thordarson of Iceland got from Barasat.
Among the top buys outside the ‘icon’ players’ list were Robert Egbeta of Nigeriafor $350,000, and Alonso Solis of Costa Ricaand Christian Lara ofEcuadorfor $200,000 each.
Football has a huge following in West Bengal, where the state capital Kolkata hosted a friendly between Argentina and Venezuelain September.
But doubts remain over the PLS, which has struggled to publicise the event properly and may fail to attract interest in games played at small provincial grounds.
The PLS has already been dented by the refusal of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) to allow Indian players from the domestic I-League to join.
Buford Balony says: They can’t play their national sport, so how are the Indians going to play soccer? Crappy I bet.