New Delhi: Even as excitement around the Indian Super League (ISL) went up several notches with the news that former French international Robert Pires could join Team Goa or Team Bengaluru as one of the marquee players, there were indications that the start of the city-based league could be postponed by around 10 days.
According to sources, the league could now start in the last week of September for better television coverage of the tournament. Given an opportunity, the promoters of the league would prefer to postpone it till the second week of October. But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has asked them to wrap it up by December 7.
The AIFF is planning to start the Federation Cup in Goa from December 10, followed by the I League from January 3. The AIFF is also likely to turn down a proposal to stage the Federation Cup before ISL, as most of the top players would be busy with the Asian Games at that time.
“There is no way we can change the calendar now
We have to start the I League in early January,” said an AIFF official. “Otherwise, we won’t be able to finish it before the end of the season. We also have to slot dates for the AFC Cup and India’s international commitments. ISL has already been given a 11-week slot.”
While Pires, 40, one of France’s top players in recent times and an Arsenal legend could be one of the biggest names to join the ISL, the chances of two other players former Manchester United and Arsenal star Mikael Silvestre and former Swedish international Fredrik Ljungberg — playing in the franchise league seems bright.
While Atletico de Kolkata, North East United FC and Kerala Blasters FC have already selected their marquee footballers, Goa, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Pune are yet to finalise the deals.
Most of the marquee players, however, are either retired or on the verge of calling it a day. Ljungberg, once a huge star in Sweden, is 37-year-old. Silvestre is 36 and was last playing in Major League Soccer.
On Monday, in the club sequence selection in Mumbai, Team Pune turned out to be lucky franchise as they would be the first among the six participating clubs to get a chance to choose a player from a pool of 84 footballers in the 14 rounds of selections, starting Tuesday.
The Calcutta based franchise Atletico de Kolkata are in the fifth place behind Team Mumbai, Kerala Blasters FC and Team Bengaluru.
While Delhi Dynamos are the sixth and the last team to get the chance to select their best player, Team Goa and North East United FC are not taking part as they have already selected their pool of players from Dempo and Shillong Lajong, respectively.
Throughout the 14 rounds, these two teams would remain at the seventh and eighth places only to announce the names of the footballers they have already recruited from their I League units.
Sources in the franchises said the biggest demand will be for Syed Rahim Nabi and Francis Fernandes. Fernandes , the attacking Goa midfielder, however, would not be present during the players draft as he has left for the Czech Republic with the Indian team.
Two other senior players in the Indian team Sunil Chetri and Robin Singh would miss the ISL as they have not been released by Bengaluru FC.
Among those who may be early picks on Tuesday are Gourmangi Singh, Subrata Paul, Lenny Rodrigues and Mehtab Hossain. In the 84-player pool, there are 27 forwards, 21 midfielders, 26 defenders and 10 goalkeepers. The pool include 30 players on loan from I League clubs and rest are free players, who are having central contract with the promoters of the league.