A New Era

After a never seen before auction of Footballers, will the Premier League Soccer be a new chapter in the history of World Football? Debojyoti Chakraborty takes an in-depth look at the money churning Magnum Opus of Indian Football

There are debates over its inspiration and role model. Hugely popular Indian Premier League (IPL) is a close neighbour which revolutionised cricket few years back. Some are citing it as a direct rip-off from the Major League Soccer (MLS). No matter what, Premier League Soccer (PLS) has arrived in Indian football and how!

The Indian Football Association (IFA), the governing body of football in West Bengal – the state with a huge fan base for football – has struck a 30-year deal with Celebrity Management Group to launch the Premier League Soccer (PLS),due to begin on 24th March, 2012 with the final to be played on 6th May, 2012. The tournament started off with a bang through the auction of franchises on 30th January, this year at a luxury hotel in Kolkata; the city, which has been the spiritual capital of the game in India for decades.  This kind of auction for footballers is unique not only in India, but also across the world. No wonder, it was covered widely in the European and Latin American media. Among others, agents of Robert Pires and Hernan Crespo were very enthusiastic about the whole thing: “They (Pires and Crespo) are very excited about coming to India. They want to be a part of this new experience.”

The base prices were set beforehand. Barasat, a northern suburb of Kolkata, sprung in a surprise as it attracted the highest bid of a little over $ 5 million from the URO Infra Realty – a little known city-based infrastructure development company – after starting at a floor price of Rs. 8 million[[1]]. Kolkata, the pivot of football in India, was set a higher floor price of $ 0.20 million but was sold for $ 2.32 million only to the Kolkata-based conglomerate house Camellia group, which specializes in aviation, education and the health-care sector. Siliguri, a hill station in the northern part of Bengal, also had its floor price at $0.20 million. It was bought by Ajay Consultants, a consulting house offering services mainly to engineering projects, for $3.63 million. One thing was prominent from this pattern – investors poured in funds heavily into infrastructure and the stadium facilities rather than traditional epicentres, which have failed to adapt themselves to the changing demands of the game. Barasat’s whopping price tag can be attributed to the stadium the city owns, easily the best one in this part of the country with international standard architecture, turf, drainage system, gallery and dressing rooms.

The other three franchises – Howrah, Durgapur and Haldia – were all put into the auction with a base price of $0.16 million. While the first two were bought by Syncsys Infotech (a HR consultancy firm) and Tulip Infotech (a high-end technology service provider) for a massive $1.81 million and $1.53 million respectively, the Haldia franchise failed to attract any bidder. The sixth bidder did not have Haldia as one of his preferred three choices and when offered the franchise at the end of the auction, refused to own it. Later on, it was sold to the Kolkata-based Greymind Communications – a production house offering diverse television shows.

The teams have been bought for a decade and then will be offered a retention option. If the owners do not wish to renew the contract, the franchises will again be auctioned. The team owners will have to restrict their spending for the first season within the stiff bracket of $2-2.5 million. This includes the cost of signing up an illustrious foreign coach, one Icon player (defined as an internationally renowned star player), one player of Asian origin, two players from overseas, six Indian players from the under 21 category, six catchment area (local) players and a pool (nine to fourteen) of Indian players. Already a chunk of this sum has been invested to buy the Icon players from the pool of six world class international footballers. The URO Infra Realty emerged triumphant here too, as they signed ex-Argentine striker Hernan Crespo for an unprecedented $850k. Despite being 36 years old, his active playing status for Parma has surely helped him become the most expensive player in the auction. He was closely followed by the only World Cup winning international in the auction – that too, as Captain – the 39-year old Italian Fabio Cannavaro, who retired from competitive football last year. Cannavaro will be donning the Siliguri colours for $840K. French international Robert Pires, who was at the heart of a dominant Arsenal team in the last decade, was snatched up by the Howrah franchise for $810K. Following the pack are Jay Jay Okocha (joined Durgapur team for $550K) and Liverpool’s own Robbie Fowler (to Kolkata for $530K).

PLS Venues

Expert auctioneer Sairaj Madan was in charge of the auction and he was overwhelmed with the response: “A few days back I was conducting an auction for cricket in Bangladesh but this is the first time ever for football.”The franchises seem to be heading in the right direction as they were going all out to get their preferred coaches. There has been a clear pattern – the franchises are going for a pair of Icon player and coach from the same nationality. Thus Durgapur lapped up Okocha as they had roped in the former Nigerian player and coach Samson Siasia at $0.21 million. Kolkata too have the former Manchester City and Sunderland coach Peter Reid, at little less than $0.20 million, to partner another Englishman Robbie Fowler. On the other hand, Barasat have signed Icelander Teitur Thordarson, whereas the Siliguri camp will be headed by possibly the greatest ever Bolivian ex-international Marco Etcheverry. Topping the chart, though, is Portuguese Fernando Couto who went to Howrah for $0.24 million. It can be noted here that Pablo Sorin of Argentina and John Barnes of England – the latter attracted some interest from the Siliguri franchise but in vain – were reserved for Haldia and they got allocated to the franchise once the team found an owner.

Over and above the Icon player, each franchise will have one player of Asian origin and two foreign players who have represented their country at a senior level. They have already been auctioned as below:

Name

Country

Position

Franchise

Age

Byung-Gyu Park

South Korea

Defender

Barasat

29

Bong-kyeom Kim

South Korea

Defender

Durgapur

Asian Players

27

Yoon-Chul Byun

South Korea

Forward

Howrah

25

Park Ji-Sung

South Korea

Midfielder

Kolkata

23

Hwang Gyu-Hwan

South Korea

Midfielder

Siliguri

25

Joaquin Botero

Bolivia

Forward

Barasat

34

Christian Lara

Ecuador

Attacking Midfielder

Barasat

31

Alonso Solis

Costa Rica

Attacking Midfielder / Forward

Durgapur

33

Jose Carlos Castillo

Guatemala

Midfielder

Durgapur

Foreign Players

19

Gabriel Ríos

Bolivia

Forward

Howrah

24

Diego Madrigal

Costa Rica

Forward

Howrah

22

Robert Egbeto

Nigeria

Defender

Kolkata

22

Daniel Varela

Costa Rica

Midfielder

Kolkata

21

Limberg Gutierrez

Bolivia

Attacking Midfielder

Siliguri

34

Santino Quaranta

USA

Forward

Siliguri

27

It is evident that only South Korean, Latin American and players from the CONCACAF constitute this segment of players. One can really hope that after gaining more popularity and catching quite a few eyeballs, players across the globe will be taking part in this unique extravaganza. Some teams have picked up one foreign player to lead in attack, midfield and defence, whereas teams like Howrah are a bit lopsided having bolstered only their attacking front so far. It seems they have to rely on the Indian players to give the team a proper balance. Barasat, on the other hand, have gone for experience but it remains to be seen how their ageing stars can cope with the demands of regular 90 minutes of competitive football. Also, no goalkeepers were up for grabs and teams might regret this as the tournament reaches its finale.

Rest of the squad will be made up of Indians who would be auctioned later on. The league will be handicapped to a certain extent as top Indian players, who are a part of the ongoing Indian National League (I-League), are not allowed to participate in this event. That leaves us only with either relatively young greenhorns or some below average locals who could not even break into the top club sides or someone who is way beyond his peak. They were slated for auction on 12th February 2012 with a base price of $4K to $6K. Also top drawer players from European leagues cannot be approached as PLS is scheduled to kick start in late February – right in the middle of congested European fixtures. If PLS has to survive for coming years, the organizers have to address this issue and maybe shift the tournament to a suitable two-month window.

The auction itself has been a huge success. The franchises consulted a number of ex-footballers and event management groups to decide their strategy. Ex-Indian footballer and their most famous star till date, Baichung Bhutia has been involved with the big spending URO group and has been rumoured to even turn out for them. It is not limited to football only. But this won’t be possible this time round as Bhutia has already played for United Sikkim in the second division of the I-League. The iconic and greatest ever sportsperson from Kolkata, India’s ex-cricket captain Sourav Ganguly has been roped in as the brand ambassador for the Kolkata franchise.

But the effort is not without its share of criticism. Will the fans turn up to see ageing, retired Iicon players? Will the little known foreign players be able to catch the eye? Will there be a loyal fan base without any local marquee players? Will the league be able to generate enough eyeballs beyond West Bengal, where the event is due to be hosted? Will it stand any chance against the hugely popular Indian Premier League – a cricket extravaganza, India’s favourite sporting event – which will be hosted simultaneously? Will the event be managed properly or will it fizzle out like the similarly hyped Premier Hockey League (PHL)?

Well, these questions will be answered shortly. But PLS is drawing controversies even before its launch. The governing body of football in India, All India Football Federation (AIFF), is at swords with the tournament and had recently asked FIFA to keep the foreign player transfers on hold. The argument put forward was that the franchises were not eligible to recruit any foreign player from the Transfer Matching System (TMS) – the mechanism used for PLS – as the teams are not registered. But IFA found a solution to this and have galvanized six local lower division clubs with the franchises and got them registered in due time. Hopefully there would not be any roadblock before the start of the campaign.

The country, in particular Kolkata, has given an astounding ovation to the greats of the game like Diego  Maradona, Oliver Kahn on his farewell match, Lionel Messi with his Argentina team, Blackburn Rovers and Bayern Munich in the last couple of years; but this has to take the cake – PLS is said to be the future of Indian Football. The first cut has really been awe-inspiring. The first day advance booking is very encouraging. The international media rights have been booked by the Singapore based broadcaster MP & Silva, while broadcasters in South Asia are fighting it out. However, this conflict may contribute to the range of $6 million for Season One of PLS alone. Celebrity Management Group (CMG), IFA and the franchises are planning to start their promotional campaign soon. The total prize money for this tournament – featuring 35 matches in all with 5 of them being knockout ones – will be $0.3 million with the champion team getting $0.1 million. All it needs is a good show and PLS would surely score it big. And in the coming years, we could well see the event spreading all over the nation and becoming a landmark for football in India. Are you ready for the revolution?

Spending pattern for the Franchises (in million USD)[2]



[1] Rs = Indian Currency (INR); 1 USD = INR 49.61 as on Auction day – 30th January 2012

[2] Figures for Haldia franchise are not available

First Whistle – February 2012

February may be the month of love but we at Goalden Times started our season of love and longing early in January, thanks to the readers’ response to our first edition of 2012. Words aren’t adequate enough to express our gratitude.

The euphoria was carried onto the football field where Zambia scored a fairytale win in the African Cup of Nations against the Ivorian ‘golden generation’. This should have an extremely positive impact on a nation that saw its players, coaches and the crew die when the plane carrying them to Senegal for a World Cup qualification game in 1993, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon. That was a sad day not just for them, but for the entire world.

1st February 2012 was another such day when fans invaded the pitch and 74 of them died in the Egyptian city of Port Said following a football match between top Cairo club Al-Ahly and the local side Al-Masry. The problems in Egypt are more deep-rooted and we hope they come out of it much like the way the Zambians came out of the pain with the lone survivor of that squad, Kalusha Bwalya (he had flown directly from the Netherlands to Dakar), leading an entirely new team to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 1994.

On the subject of leaders, the manager’s post lies vacant as England coach Fabio Capello resigns. The popular choice for replacement is Harry Redknapp but he seems focused on his current job with Tottenham, sitting steady at number 3 right under the Manchester rivals on the Barclays Premier League table. The colour of the ribbons on the La Liga trophy looks certain to change after three years with the Madrid side taking their lead to double digits now. Juventus still remain unbeaten this season in all competitions and looks like good times are going to be back for the ‘Old Lady’.

The winter transfer window closed without any major signing but the tale of two strikers, both extraordinarily talented, stood out. Filippo Inzaghi, supremely loyal that he is, chose to remain with Milan while Carlos Tevez’s bohemian career failed to find a new anchor. Goalden Times looks at both the stories in detail. The Arsenal legend Thierry Henry came ‘home’ for a short spell on loan and finished it in style scoring another match-winning goal before heading back to Major League Soccer (MLS) in the US. Although MLS has been able to attract some big names in football, the game still has a long way to go in the country. A rip-off from MLS will now be seen in India with players of the calibre of Hernan Crespo, Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires, Robbie Fowler and Jay Jay Okocha joining the Premier League Soccer (PLS) in West Bengal, India. PLS will begin in March and we keenly wait to see how it impacts Indian football. We do hope that the players as well as the viewers love the ‘new experience’.

As love is in the air and we believe football can create a stronger sense of bonding, we dedicate this edition of Goalden Times to the martyred saints of ancient Rome. We also take this opportunity to pay our humble tribute to the “Busby Babes” who had left us this month back in 1958 in the Munich air disaster.

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