Mumbai: The Hero Indian Super League promises to revolutionise the country's football scene like never before but the All India Football Federation today maintained that its poorer and older cousin, I-League, continues to be the mainstay of the sport.
"There's a lot of excitement as we embark on a new adventure. This is the first tournament of this nature approved by FIFA (world governing body of football) anywhere in the world. I-League is there and will continue to be the mainstay of Indian football but this (ISL) is a unique product," said AIFF president Praful Patel at the logo launch.
"We are pleased to get into the partnership with IMG Reliance and Star to bring up Indian football. We are all looking forward to the exciting journey ahead," Patel added.
ISL, an IPL-style tournament involving eight city-based franchise teams - some of which are co-owned by retired cricket greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly and Bollywood stars like Abhishek Bachchan who was today unveiled as co-owner of the new Chennai franchise, is set to kick off on October 12 and conclude on December 20.
The tournament has been floated jointly by IMG-Reliance and Star India and is fully backed by AIFF. I-League, in which all the leading football clubs of the country take part, is more than a decade and a half old and doubts have been raised about its existence and relevance with the launching of the cash-rich ISL.
Today's launch was done by Nita Ambani, chairperson of IMG-Reliance, in the presence of all the team owners, including Tendulkar who represented Kerala Blasters.
"Its a momentous day for us as we set ourselves in building a grand coalition among all stakeholders to develop football in the country and take it to its deserving space in Indian sports," said Ambani, who is also the founding Chairperson of Football Sports Development.
"ISL hopes to act as a foundation in creating an ecosystem to nurture talent and make our own national football heroes through its ambitious grassroots development programme," she added.
Speaking on the occasion, Tendulkar said he was a supporter of not only football but all Indian sports and wanted India to become "the fittest and healthiest country" in the world.
"Cricket or football, I will support all sports and all Indian sports-persons. I want it to be sports for all. As a sportsman who played for 25 years, I know sports teaches to compete in the right spirit, teaches you to get up after facing hurdles. I want all the teams to compete hard on the field and be friends off it," said the cricket great.
"I want India to be the fittest and healthiest country in the world. This (ISL) is a very good thing to happen to Indian football and its extremely important for everyone to make the best use of this platform," he added.
Hero group's vice chairman and Managing Director Pawan Munjal said he could see first hand, the enthusiasm the game of football generated while he was present during the month-long FIFA World Cup in Brazil in June-July.
"I wish this (ISL) had happened many years ago. I had been in Brazil and saw the joy it (football) brings to the young people. The league (ISL) will not only succeed but also thrive in India," he predicted.
It was announced during the launch that Bachchan junior and Vita Dani would be the co-owners of the Chennai franchise that got into the ISL picture only recently. All the team owners signed a pledge at the logo launch committing to the League's vision in bringing a football revolution across the
The player draft, both domestic and international, for identifying the team roasters has been gone through. Among the well-known overseas footballers who will be seen in action in ISL are, David Trezeguet, David James, Luis Garcia, Joan Capdevilla, Robert Pires, Freddy Ljunberg and Manuel Friedrich.
The eight franchise outfits are: Kerala Blasters, Team Mumbai, Team Chennai, Delhi Dynamos, Northeast United, FC Pune City, FC Goa and Athletico de Kolkata.