New Delhi: Atletico de Kolkata clearly had their plans chalked out long before the draft of foreign players for the Indian Super League (ISL) was held in a Mumbai hotel on Thursday. After carefully going through the list of 49 foreigners up for “sale”, the Calcutta based franchise was keen to rope in a bunch of Spanish footballers.
In the end, while Sachin Tendulkar’s Kerala Blasters managed to clinch the deal with British footballer of Indian origin, Michael Chopra, Atletico de Kolkata bagged three Spanish players and one each from France, the Czech Republic and Armenia.
The Calcutta side, who have tied up with European giants Atletico de Madrid, wanted to have majority of the foreign players from one country. “It would definitely help to ease the language barrier and improve communication among footballers,” explained Jose Ramirez Barreto later.
Soon after the draft was over, the Calcutta team management announced the squad would have their pre-season camp in Spain. “The team is ready to depart soon for Spain. Post a one month training there, we want to bring back a cohesive and connected team,” the club said in a statement.
Some of these Spanish players have come at a high price because of their impressive resume. Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey, commonly known as Josemi, had played for top teams like Liverpool, Malaga and Vilarreal and has the experience of playing 178 La Liga matches. He remained one of the costliest buys in the draft, with a price tag of $ 70,000.
From the 49 players fielded in the draft on Thursday, two went for $80,000 — Bernard Mendy (Chennai) and Gregory Arnolin, who was picked by the Goa franchise.
There were 34 players, including Chopra, who commanded a price of $58,185 each, while a dozen others were taken for $ 38,790 each.
“Atletico de Kolkata made some prudent choices today at the draft,” commented Utsav Parekh, one of the co-owners of the team.
Chopra was the first footballer to be picked up by Kerala Blasters. The striker, a product of Newcastle United youth system and once touted as a potential international for England, is currently a free player after being released by Blackpool.
Kerala Blasters’ marquee player cum manager and former England custodian David James said: “Chopra, with his experience of playing in England, was our first choice as a pick up in the draft. He would be a great help in the ISL.”
Though the promoters of the ISL said the tournament would begin as scheduled on October 12, they need to sort out a few issues. The biggest problem at the moment has turned out to be the tussle between football and cricket bodies in Kerala, over the allotment of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.
There was some apprehension about the eighth team after the withdrawal of Bangalore Titans franchise owners, Sun Group. On Thursday, the organisers announced the inclusion of a team from Chennai as the eighth franchise, but refused to reveal the identity of the owners.
“The eighth team in the ISL would be Team Chennai, which was represented today in the draft by Play on Skills, which has a technical collaboration with Inter Milan in India. The owners of the Chennai franchise would be announced later,” said the Anupam Dutta, the CEO of the ISL.