Interview with Abhishek Bachchan: "The PKL is the second-most attended league in India"
Abhishek Bachchan has never made a secret out of his love for sports. So when the opportunity to own a franchise in the Star Sports Pro Kabaddi League came knocking, it was one that he couldn’t turn down. He was with his team, the Jaipur Pink Panthers, as they went through their pre-season routines in Chennai, which happens to be the home of Abhishek’s other sporting franchise – Chennaiyin FC.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Junior Bachchan spoke about his love for Kabaddi, his love for the city of Chennai and his plans for both of his franchises.
Q. How significant is it that the Pro Kabaddi League has now become a bi-annual event?
It is huge. The entire country has taken to the sport, and it comes as no surprise. Kabaddi is our own indigenous sport, and to see the support the league has got has been extremely heart-warming. There is such enormous potential in the sport, and it was only a matter of time before that potential was going to be tapped into.
Q. This is the first time that such large amounts of money have been pumped into Kabaddi, as a sport. How important a factor is it?
The players needed the sort of investment that has happened. The sport needed it. It can only act as an incentive for all these players who have put all their heart into this sport. The PKL is the second-most attended league in India after the IPL, and it is only fair that these players get to make at least a small fraction of the money that the cricketers do.
Q. After winning Season 1, Jaipur Pink Panthers have disappointed. Has that troubled you?
Not really. In Season 3, I would attribute our failure to qualify for the knockouts to ill-luck. We lost a lot of our important players very early in the season, and it was difficult to recover from those setbacks. We played virtually the entire season with a depleted squad and every single member of the squad gave their best. That is all I can ask out of the players.
Q. Only 2 players were allowed to be retained ahead of the auction. Does that make for a more competitive league?
Yes, definitely. I know that the organisers too wanted to make the league as competitive as they could. It is only an eight-team league. So there is no point having one team that is far too strong and another that is weak. Looking at the composition of the teams this year, it is going to be a very exciting league.
Q. Shabeer Bapu was your biggest signing in the auction. What are your expectations from him?
Shabeer is someone that I have had a huge admiration for over the first three seasons of the league. He adds depth to our raiding department, with Jasvir Singh and Rajesh Narwal already there. Jasvir is still nursing a slight injury, so it is huge for us to have Shabbeer on board.
Q. The defence, apart from Rohit Rana, lacks experience. Is that a concern?
I don’t think so. We bought Amit Hooda in the auction, and he is a youngster who I think has enormous potential. Ran Singh has been with us all through, and we’ve got Rajesh Narwal and Rohit Rana as well in defense, so I think we have got most bases covered.
Q. Despite the poor run in the last two seasons, what was the thinking behind sticking with Kasinathan Baskaran and the rest of the staff?
Look, the players need a solid base for them to express themselves on the field. Therefore, it is important that we maintain the stability and the familiarity with the backroom staff.
Q. Even with Chennaiyin FC, you have stuck with Marco Materazzi for two seasons. Will we be seeing him again in ISL 3?
We are in advanced talks with Marco. There is some paperwork still to be finalised and I will not make any announcements till then, but I will say that the signs are good.
Q. Chennaiyin have the Indian core in place already. So, are there plans to bring in more foreign talent?
For the past six months, the entire Chennaiyin team has been working hard to find and spot players that we could potentially sign. As I said, there will be no announcements made until the dotted line is signed, but the announcements of signings and recruitments will start very soon, I can assure you that.
Q. Did the love from the Chennaiyin FC fans play a part in Jaipur having their pre-season in Chennai?
Absolutely. Chennai is a city that loves its sport and has become a second home for me. I was out for a movie with the Jaipur squad yesterday and was astounded at the number of people that recognised these players. The city has got an amazing fan culture. That was exemplified on December the 1st when Chennaiyin played Mumbai amidst the deluge and there were 12,000 people at the stadium. With a city like this, it is hard to not keep coming back with more and more sport.
Q. You are a Chelsea fan. Was it hard to digest Jose Mourinho moving to Manchester United?
Not particularly. He did great things for Chelsea. Now that he’s at United, he will get love from Chelsea’s supporters until the first whistle goes but after that, it is business as usual for both him and Chelsea, and I’m sure that is exactly how he sees it as well.
Q. Lastly, who do you think are favourites to win this year’s Pro Kabaddi League