Robbie Fowler is set to star in a new football league in India in March. Fowler, who is best remembered for his time at Liverpool during the 1990s, is to head up a set of iconic players and coaches who will kick-start India’s new sporting adventure.
The Premier League Soccer (PLS) will have six teams competing across a 35-match season, with five knockout games and a cash prize at the end. Styled on the cricket IPL (Indian Premier League), the season will run for seven weeks and will feature home and away matches. Each team will have one iconic player, a foreign coach and an allowance to field two other foreign players. The PLS aims to attract players with overseas talent, hoping for a boost to all Indian football. Each team has a salary cap of £1.58 million. The current domestic league is the I-League, and although it contains mostly home-grown players, they will not be allowed to play in the PLS. This is anticipated to cause future problems as players from the I-League will be denied the more lucrative contracts of the new league.
Another problem could be the timing. The PLS will kick off on 24 March, the same date as the ever-popular cricket IPL. Cricket is India’s national sport, and even though a lot of Indians follow English football, it is wondered if the PLS can ever match the popularity of the wickets and stumps. Indian Football Association (IFA) secretary Utpal Ganguli has said that he doesn’t fear the competition: “We are overwhelmed by queries from all over the world. Looking at the phenomenal response, I am sure IPL TV right holders will be worried about PLS.
“I am not here to challenge anybody. But looking at the fan following of football all over the world, I'm sure that IPL will be no match for PLS.”
Robbie Fowler will be joined by a host of other star names, including Robert Pires and Fabio Cannavaro. These players were ‘sold’ to the new clubs in an IPL-style auction, with legend Hernan Crespo raising the most at £533,000. Fowler is used to playing in foreign leagues, with recent stints at North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory (Australia), as well as Thailand’s Muangthong United.
Questions have been raised about certain aspects of the new league. It remains to be seen if a novelty league can be entertaining enough to overshadow the nation’s cricket IPL. Whilst the short season means that big name foreign players might be more likely to join, the PLS sees experienced and amateur footballers alongside one another, a mix-match which might not make for fluid football.
One thing is certain - the beautiful game is gaining more of a foothold in India as time passes. The sport has grown in popularity since the 1950 World Cup where the Indian national team withdrew after they were refused permission to play barefoot. The huge challenge of setting up a new league does speak volumes about the national enthusiasm for the sport, but whether it will be a success remains to be seen.
Threatening competition for the cricket? Probably not. Great quality football? Possibly. Entertaining? Most definitely.