Crespo leads Indian league auction
© AFP

Argentine legend Hernan Crespo leads a host of semi-retired world stars to be auctioned tonight to play in a new football tournament in India, organisers said. The Premier League Soccer (PLS), the brainchild of officials in the state of West Bengal, is due to start on 25 February in an attempt to fuel growing Indian interest in the beautiful game.

Six "icon" players including Crespo and Italy's FIFA World Cup™-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro will be picked by five franchises to play alongside local players over seven weeks. Former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires of France, Jay Jay Okocha of Nigeria, ex-Argentina captain Juan Pablo Sorin and Robbie Fowler of England will also compete.

At least 15 other international players, mostly from South America, will feature in the auction, said Bhaswar Goswami of the Celebrity Management Group, which is organising the tournament with authorities in Kolkata. "This is an exciting time for Indian football," Goswami told AFP. "These legends will make the sport even more popular in the country. Television coverage will ensure this tournament will attract viewers across India. Details are being worked out."

Football has a huge following in West Bengal, where the state capital Kolkata hosted a friendly between Argentina and Venezuela in September. The sport is viewed as having great potential in India, despite the dominance of cricket, with English side Liverpool setting up an academy and Blackburn Rovers now owned by Indian firm Venky's.

Former Chelsea striker Crespo commands the highest reserve price of $840,000 at the auction, followed by Cannavaro ($780,000). Seven foreign coaches, including ex-England and Liverpool star John Barnes, will also feature in the tournament, which hopes to emulate the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

The five city franchises of Kolkata, Barasat, Howrah, Durgapur and Siliguri must have at least one famous foreign player and coach, Goswami said. The PLS has faced the set-back of being refused by the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) to allow Indian players from the domestic I-League to join.