Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish looks set to return to football management if plans to start the Indian Super League come to fruition. Dalglish, who has been out of the game since being sacked by The Reds in May 2012, is one of a number of big names lined up to participate in the IMG initiative, due to kick-off in January 2014.
Along with Dalglish, Peter Schmeichel and Marcel Desaiily have been confirmed as managers, while Ruud Gullit and Robbie Fowler are in negotiations with organisers to lead new-formed teams operating out of key Indian cities. Michael Owen is also rumoured to be one player available in the auction. Other interest comes while the likes of Hernan Crespo, Dwight Yorke, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires confirmed as players, while Fernando Morientes and Thierry Henry have been mooted as players in the past. The plan is for teams to compete in an eight team league, using squads of 22. Each squad will comprise of ten international players and one ‘marquee’ player, with the rest coming from the domestic scene.
Dalglish, who is the last Liverpool manager to lead the great club to a league title, was recently appointed as a non-executive director of the club. He is set to arrive in India at some point next month as player auctions begin. The former Celtic striker will be a ‘marquee’ manager, meaning a club/franchise will have to pay a premium price to secure his services for the season. At the moment, former Bournemouth and Bristol Rovers striker Trevor Morgan has been putting Indian players who have signed up for the league through their paces. Morgan, until recently, was manager of I-League side East Bengal and may yet be considered for a managerial role in the new competition.
Reliance Industries and international sports management group IMG, have teamed up to get the league up and running, having paid the AIFF approximately $156 million in 2010 for the rights to promote the game in the country. Since then there have been a couple of false starts but now, with television company Star TV also supporting the league, it looks as though all parties are keen to start the competition on 18th January, 2014. Interest is high amongst local football fans, with the current I-League seeing a rise in attendances and an affinity with the local game so rarely seen in Asia. The Super League concept should help to improve the infrastructure in the domestic game.
According to Mihir Vasavda, Senior Sports Editor of the Indian Express, teams will be owned by Bollywood stars and other wealthy people in the country. Tony Fernandes, the owner of Queen’s Park Rangers and the Caterham Formula 1 team, is also said to be keen on purchasing a franchise.
Keen to borrow a concept similar to fans of the Indian Premier League cricket, eight teams would be based in the major cities of the country, with the likes of Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore in the running at the time of writing. The threat to the current I-League is minimal in some respects, as the competition will take place during the mid-season break between January and March.
It is worth noting that the Indian Super League is not an original idea and there were plans afoot to begin a similiar competition in Bengal. Back then the competition was considered to be a non-starter with local experts and expats such as Steve Darby noting that it would do more harm than good to the local game. However, Reliance and IMG, who first announced their plans in 2010, have always considered a three year lead-in before the competition begins and this looks like the most concrete plan yet.
When asked if the competition can help Indian football in the long run, Vasvada told Les Rosbifs, “I can’t see how a three-month tournament can improve the standard of game in the country. But it can set the ball rolling. It can generate public and sponsor interest in Indian football and get some money into the game. And if they are going to re-invest the money earned from this tournament back into Indian football, and strengthen the I-League, then it makes sense.”
We will keep an eye on this competition with great interest.