Interview: Could Messi or Ronaldo play in the ISL?

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Aiming high: Kushal Das hopes that the Indian Super League will eventually attract the world's top football talent.

In 2013 the Indian Super League was created in an attempt to diversify India’s sporting portfolio and bring the country to football’s top table.

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The tournament is one of two elite football leagues in the country and was the brainchild of the sport’s governing body, the All India Football Federation.

The AIFF wanted to give India’s one billion population alternatives to watching cricket and the IPL, for which the country has become so synonymous with when it comes to the topic of sport.

In 2009 JB Bernstien had the idea of tapping into India’s vast un-scouted talent and to play baseball and the Million Dollar Arm project was a huge success.

With a Hollywood film and his name being up in lights Bernstein’s idea may have been a commercial masterstroke, but it also proved that there is interest for other sports in India but the bat and ball.

The ISL is played from October to December and features eight franchise teams from every corner of India.

Unlike the majority of football leagues around the world the ISL does not use the promotion and relegation system. Instead tournament organizers settled on a franchise competition.

Whilst the excitement of a relegation battle will never be possible, the franchise model also seen in the IPL and most American professional sports encourages vital investment from businesses that allow the game to grow on and off the field.

A pre-requisite to bidding for one of the teams was that bidders not only needed to comply with a financial requirement but also agree to promote grass-roots development plans for football within their area.

Subsequently this ensures that improving Indian football is as much a priority as simply attracting the world’s top talent to entertain the growing crowds.

So far the tournament as been a success both on the field and in the board room.

Some of the country’s biggest celebrities such as cricket god Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor helped secure bids for fanchises while Luis Garcia and later David Trezeguet became the league’s first marquee signings.

There is no question that cricket will always be India’s favourite pastime, but with increasing numbers of internationally-acclaimed football players swelling the ranks of local men in the ISL changing rooms, it looks as it is the IPL may have serious competition on their hands much sooner than expected.

However one big question remains: Will India’s new league grow quickly enough for a maturing Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to ever consider gracing the lush green Indian turf?

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