KOLKATA, Oct 11 (PTI): Proclaimed a game-changer and perhaps the most star-studded event ever in the history of Indian football featuring retired giants of the game, the ISL will kick off here tomorrow aiming to give a fresh lease of life to the global sport in a country which has been called a �sleeping giant� by FIFA.
Ranked 158th in the world, Indian football is not exactly in the pink of health but with a bit of help from former World Cup winners, some big Bollywood stars and a dash of cricket to it, the Indian Super League would be looking to draw the fans and raise the profile of the �beautiful game� in a nation obsessed with cricket. The tournament features five World Cup winners and Brazilian legend Zico, as coach, and that has been the one big factor in generating the buzz around the glitzy league.
All the marquee players are past their prime and are discards of European leagues � David James of Kerala Blasters is the oldest at 44 � but the event has generated worldwide attention.
Add to this the host of Bollywood celebrities, Indian cricketers � including the iconic Sachin Tendulkar � and business magnates who have co-owned various teams, and it appears to have all the ingredients needed for a blockbuster recipe. There are, however, detractors who have questioned how the Indian footballers will benefit from the 10-week league which has a six-five foreigners-domestic ratio and whether the new teams will able to gain fan bases like the traditional powerhouses East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or the Goan and North-East clubs.
A grand Bollywood-style opening ceremony is planned ahead of the inaugural match-up between city franchise Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC. The league will then spread to seven other centers of Guwahati, Kochi, Fatorda, Pune, Chennai Mumbai and Delhi before the final on December 20.
On paper, the Ranbir Kapoor co-owned Mumbai City FC appear to be the heavyweights with the mercurial Frenchman Nicolas Anelka and Swede Fredrik Ljungberg along with acclaimed domestic players like India no 1 goalkeeper Subrata Pal, experienced side-back Syed Rahim Nabi and the spirited medio Lalrindika Ralte.
Mumbai City FC have some English flavour in the coaching staff with former Manchester City and Sunderland manager Peter Reid and his deputy Stee Darby, relatively known figure in domestic football.
But not always the right high profile players make a good team and this is where the stout Reid will chip in to make this a perfect unit.
Both Anelka, who was handed a five-match ban by the Football Association after the 35-year-old made the controversial �quenelle� gesture in December while playing for West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League, is set to miss the opening tie. Ljungberg will also be warming the benches as he is recovering from a calf-muscle injury.
The duo�s likely absence will give Atletico de Kolkata a definite advantage but only time would say how the side, with a distinctive Spanish flavour, would do.
In ex-Liverpool star Luis Garcia and La Liga journeymen Borja Fern�ndez and Jofre Mateu and manager Antonio L�pez Habas, who took charge of Bolivia and Valencia among others before coaching in South Africa, the team looks Spanish.
They would be playing alongside Indian players such as Sanju Pradhan, Arnab Mondal, Cavin Lobo Baljit Sahni and Cimax Lawrence.
ATK will have a rotation policy with four captains in the ranks � Sanju being the only Indian in that quartet � and it remains to be seen how they fare among the seven other franchises who have World Cup winning stars.
ATK is fresh from their month-long training in Spain which was organised by their La Liga partners Atletico Madrid and will look to gain fans in a city that�s known for their huge support to local clubs East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting.
Apart from Mumbai, FC Goa too is highly decorated with Arsenal and France luminary Robert Emmanuel Pires and Brazilian legend Zico, the most decorated marquee manager who has taken up the role after leaving Qatari side Al-Gharafa.
The 40-year-old Pires is best known for winning three FA Cups and two Premier League titles including the club�s unbeaten season of 2003�04.
The 40-year-old earned 79 caps between 1996 and 2004 for his country, including winning both the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000.
Goa and North-East United FC of Guwahati are the only teams in the ISL to have avoided the domestic players draft and the two teams with huge fanbase would be the ones to watch out for.