India football auction spending hits $7m

Hernan Crespo, file pic Former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo topped the list at $840,000

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India has held its first football auction, ahead of a league competition that hopes to mirror the success of the country's IPL cricket tournament.

The Premier League Soccer (PLS) auction in Calcutta saw the owners of five teams shelling out some $7m on foreign players and coaches.

Former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo topped the list at $840,000.

The competition kicks off in March in India's football capital, the north-eastern state of West Bengal.

Last year, Calcutta hosted India's first international friendly between overseas teams, with Argentina beating Venezuela 1-0.

'New path'

The tournament is expected to feature six teams. Each has a salary cap of $2.5m.

There were five "icon players" up for grabs.

Barasat, one of the five franchises, won the bidding for Crespo.

Italy's World Cup-winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, cost Siliguri $830,000 while Howrah2 paid $800,000 for former France midfielder Robert Pires.

AUCTION PRICE FOR COACHES

  • Fernando Couto (Howrah2) - $240,000
  • Samson Siasia (Durgapur) - $210,000
  • Teitur Thordarson (Barasat) - $200,000
  • Peter Reid (Kolkata) - $200,000
  • Marco Etcheverry (Siliguri) - $200,000

Ex-Nigeria player Jay Jay Okocha went to Durgapur for $550,000 and Kolkata signed ex-England attacker Robbie Fowler for $530,000.

Five foreign managers were also auctioned.

Organisers of the PLS hope to emulate the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the cricket tournament that attracts huge crowds and which inaugurated the auction system.

They also believe that it will inspire more Indians to play football. India is ranked 158 of the 203 football-playing countries.

"I think that we are at the crossroads for Indian football. I am sure that the PLS will provide a new path," Bhaswar Goswami, one of the organisers, told the BBC.

But critics of the league say the money would have been better spent in developing talent and question whether football can ever challenge the multi-billion dollar business of cricket in India.

Football has been played and followed in India for almost 200 years.

The televising of the Mexico World Cup in 1986 made Maradona a hero and created a generation of Argentina fans.

An Indian company, Venky's, now owns the Premiership club Blackburn Rovers.

Liverpool are setting up an academy in Delhi and Manchester United chief executive David Gill has spoken openly about his team's desire to crack the Indian market.

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