MUMBAI: Leading Spanish club Atletico Madrid and cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are among the owners of eight franchises of a new Indian football league set to kick off later this year, organisers announced on Sunday.
La Liga leaders Atletico and former Indian captain Ganguly were part of the consortium that won the bid for the Kolkata team in the Indian Super League (ISL), proposed to start in mid-September and run till the end of November.
The ISL is bank-rolled by India`s Reliance Industries, controlled by the country`s richest man Mukesh Ambani, Rupert Murdoch`s Star India and sports management group IMG.
Former international stars such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Hernan Crespo, Fredrik Ljungberg, Dwight Yorke and Louis Saha are among those who have reportedly signed up to play in the league.
`I am very excited to have won the Kolkata Franchise of the ISL and being the first international team to be directly owning a club in India we along with our Indian Partners and IMG-Reliance aim to revolutionise football in the country,` Miguel Angel Gil Marin, the owner of Atletico, said in a statement.
Former batting great Tendulkar bagged the franchise for the southern Indian city of Kochi with PVP Ventures, a company which has interests in real estate, media and finances film projects while alsoowning a team in the Indian Badminton League.
`I will always remain a sportsman at heart who is keen to positively impact the sporting fabric of the nation,` Tendulkar, who retired last year as the world`s leading batsman in both Test and one-day cricket, said in a statement.
`The Indian Super League presents a great opportunity to develop a platform for youngsters to learn and enhance their talent to develop into outstanding players.
With the Kochi club, we will strive to `score our goals`and play a part in developing the game of football across the country.
The league, styled on cricket`s cash-rich Indian Premier League and backed by the All India Football Federation, will also have a fair presence of the film industry.
Organisers IMG-Reliance, who are also the main sponsors of the AIFF with a 15-year marketing contract in place since 2010, announced a number of Indian cinema stars as co-owners after evaluating some 30 bids.
Leading Bollywood actors Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham are co-owners of the Pune, Mumbai and Guwahati franchises respectively.
Chennai-based Sun Group, which also owns the IPL`s Hyderabad franchise, bagged the Bangalore team, cable TV distribution company DEN Networks won the bid for Delhi while the Goa team went to a consortium including In-dian conglomerate Videocon Industries.
The ISL is an additional tournament in India after a national ILeague tournament run by the AIFF.
The I-League features several foreign players but none are stars because the top earners in the league make about $100,000$150,000 per season.
However, the made-for-television event, to be broadcast by Star TV network, has already run into fierce opposition from India`s top clubs.
The clubs have yet to confirm they will release players for the tournament, which they said earlier would threaten their existence and ruin the I-League.
Last year similar plans by football officials in West Bengal state for a franchise-based league featuring fading stars like Argentina`s Crespo and Italy`s Fabio Cannavaro failed to take off.
India, ranked a lowly 145th in the world and 25th in Asia, has seen a surge in football`s popularity due to live television coverage of matches played around the globe.
Star TV, which also beams English Premier League matches to the country, roped in India`s cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to promote football for its sports channel.
It also launched Hindi-language commentary on Premier Leaguegames to ensure wider viewership in smaller towns where English is spoken less commonly.-Reuters