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Should Indian clubs sign ageing football stars?

Our own I-League continues to be in a period of transition from a semi-professional to a fully professional league, but when this transition will be finally over is not known. But what is a fact is that Indian clubs are spending more and more on their ...

Our own I-League continues to be in a period of transition from a semi-professional to a fully professional league, but when this transition will be finally over is not known. But what is a fact is that Indian clubs are spending more and more on their players every season. Budgets have grown from being around Rs. 2,5 to 3 crores with top clubs now set to spend Rs. 12 crores in the 2011/12 season. A lot for Indian football, but not comparable to Asian and international level.

Still the world is aware of the better spending power of Indian clubs, so costlier and hopefully better foreigners will come and play in our leagues. Also the I-League could follow leagues from around the world which have tried to build their success on bringing in ageing stars to attract higher attendances and bigger media following.

Aspiring football leagues around the world have over the decades tried to bring in football stars who were past their prime to push the popularity of the beautiful game and that of these leagues. Be it the NASL (North American Soccer League) in the 1970s & 80s which saw stars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and others in action, Japan’s J-league in the 1990s with Zico, Gary Lineker, Pierre Littbarski and others or Major League Soccer in North America with David Beckham and Thierry Henry at the moment to name a few.

But the question is simply if India and its football is ready for all this?

At the moment I would say, No. I would suggest the clubs to wait a year or two until the league is a little more mature.

What has worked for the other leagues is the fact that certain basics where in place before such fading stars of the game would join teams in these leagues. The clubs would have the necessary infrastructure (stadia, training facilities, etc), financial power, merchandising plus strong media and marketing partners.

All these are lacking in Indian football at the moment. Surely it would give the clubs a lot of media coverage and publicity plus fans would get to see some big names, but I fear the league isn’t ready yet for the above reasons.

And one needs to remember that big names do not mean good results. Dempo has been linked with Argentinian Ariel Ortega and Italian Christian Vieri, East Bengal with England Nicky Butt and Portuguese Nuno Gomez; but these players are used to a certain standard on and off the field, which sadly Indian football cannot provide at the moment. So could they really deliver what clubs and their fans would expect of them?

One would have wait and to see if any such deal happens this summer…

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