MUMBAI, India (AP) - Former Newcastle striker Michael Chopra’s Indian origin made him a top pick as he was bought quickly by Kerala Blasters on Thursday in the international player draft of the Indian Super League.
Chopra, the only English player among 49 players in the draft, was picked by the south Indian franchise which is part-owned by retired cricket great Sachin Tendulkar.
“When the drafts came up, the first name that caught our attention was that of Chopra,” said former England goalkeeper David James, a player and manager with the Kerala Blasters. “We immediately decided to pick him and are happy to have him in this team.”
Chopra will get $58,185 per season, according to organizers.
Other prominent picks included French defender Bernard Mendy ($80,000) and former Manchester United midfielder Bojan Djordjic of Sweden ($58,185) by the Chennai franchise, while Spanish midfielder Jofre Mateu ($58,185) went to Atletico de Kolkata.
The players were classified in pay brackets of $39,000 to $80,000 as the league, to be played from Oct. 12-Dec. 20, brought in a mix of some big names by Indian standards as well as upcoming players in a bid to boost the game’s following.
The order of draft picks was decided by draw of lots, with the teams choosing from players in pre-decided sets according to their positions of play.
Unlike the biddings at cricket’s Indian Premier League, from which the ISL is inspired, there was no glamour quotient as the cricketers and film stars associated with the tournament did not turn up for the draft.
Giant screens showed the team selection process inside the hall for the draft at a prominent five-star hotel facing the Arabian sea.
All the teams have the option of selecting three players from outside the draft process, including a marquee player.
Luis Garcia (Kolkata), Joan Capdevila (North East United FC) and David Trezeguet (Pune) are some of the marquee players announced so far, while other teams are still scouting for big names, which are being paid more than those in the draft.
Teams will have squads of 22 with a similar process for Indian players completed last month. Most of the Indian players also figure in the national I-League tournament run by the All India Football Federation, which is likely to play second fiddle to the heavily-promoted ISL in the coming seasons.
The I-League also features several foreign players but no big names since fees are generally much lower.
“Frankly speaking, the I-League has not delivered,” All India Football Federation secretary-general Kushal Das said. “Indian football needed some adrenalin and we are hoping the ISL will help attract people to the game.”
The eight-team ISL is being organized by IMG-Reliance in collaboration with Rupert Murdoch’s Star India group.
The presence of former cricketers and Indian film stars as co-owners in the league is expected to arouse interest in the cricket-crazy country of 1.2 billion where a number of franchise leagues in other sports have mushroomed over the past few years.
Former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly has a stake in Atletico de Kolkata, while Bollywood actors Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham are among the other co-owners of teams in Pune, Mumbai and Shillong, respectively.
Meanwhile, organizers announced that Bangalore owner Sun Group has dropped out and will be replaced with one from Chennai that will be run in collaboration with Italian club Inter Milan. The name of the team will be announced later.
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