|Denzil Franco (from left), Arnab Mondal and Alberto Marrero, a
member of Atletico’s technical staff, in Mumbai, on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi: If Team Mumbai benefited the most on the opening day of the Indian Super League (ISL) Domestic Player Draft, by signing up some of country’s most sought after footballers, then the promoters of the cash-rich league staged a bigger coup off the bidding table.
On Tuesday, when the officials of the eight franchises gathered in a Mumbai hotel for the first seven rounds of players’ recruitment, a couple of once staunchest critics of the ISL were spotted playing important roles in selecting footballers for Team Bengaluru and Team Pune.
They were Chirag Tanna and Mustafa Ghouse, the chief executive officers of Pune FC and Bengaluru FC, respectively. The two clubs had opposed the ISL from the beginning.
The interesting development gave rise to speculations that players from these two clubs, which include Sunil Chetri and Robin Singh, could now be released for the ISL. The assumption became stronger when it was known that both the I-League clubs had tied up with the ISL franchises from their respective cities.
One Bengaluru FC official, however, later said they were only trying to help the new franchises. “Bengaluru players won’t play in the ISL, at least not this year. Being the I-League champions, we are concentrating on the AFC Cup,” the official told The Telegraph. There are, however, reasons to believe that barring Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa, no other I-League club would now oppose the new venture started by the marketing agents of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The Domestic Player Draft was devoid of much excitement and went off rather quickly. Barring Jose Ramirez Barreto from Atletico de Kolkata and former East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan, who was sitting at the Kerala Blasters table, not many big names from the football fraternity were seen on Day I. Actor John Abraham, one of the co-owners of the North East United FC, visited the venue for a short period.
Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia was also present and though he was there only as an onlooker, some of the franchises were seen seeking his advice on recruitment.
Team Mumbai looked the strongest side after the end of the seven rounds, at least on paper, as they were able to sign custodian Subrata Paul, midfielders Syed Rahim Nabi and Lalrindika Ralte, thus dashing the hopes of Atletico de Kolkata to recruit some of their hometown stars.
While Paul and Nabi turned out to be costly buys at a whopping Rs 80 lakh each, Ralte is expected to fetch Rs 27 lakh. Another Calcutta boy — Ram Malik — also went the Mumbai way along with Deepak Mondal. Young Malik would receive a modest Rs 7 lakh.
Contrary to expectations that attacking midfielder Francis Fernandes would be up for grabs at the start of the draft, another midfielder Lenny Rodrigues was the first to be drafted by Team Pune (Rs 55 lakh). After Paul, Mehtab Hossain (Kerala Blasters FC, Rs 35 lakh) and Harmanjyot Singh Khabra (Team Bengaluru, Rs 19 lakh) were called in the first round, Atletico de Kolkata selected Cavin Lobo (Rs 15 lakh) as their first choice.
With some of the big names like Chetri, Robin, Karanjit Singh, Balwant Singh and Arata Azumi missing from the list of 84 players, it would be too early to say which franchise would emerge the most balanced side in the end.
While there will be another seven rounds of players’ recruitment on Wednesday, a clear picture would emerge only after the draft of foreign players, which could be held in August.