Indian Super League features Premier League stars from yesteryear
By Dev Trehan
Last Updated: 30/09/16 7:02pm
The third edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off in Guwahati this weekend with North East United hosting Kerala Blasters in the opening fixture.
Cricket-mad India - the second most populous nation in the world, home to 1.3 billion people - has ramped up its efforts to integrate football into the country's sporting landscape in recent years.
The inaugural competition in 2014 saw Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires and Elano feature as marquee players, while last year the ISL welcomed the likes of Roberto Carlos, Simao and Adrian Mutu.
Seven of the marquee signings in this year's ISL boast Premier League experience. We take a look at the eight teams.
Kolkata has a football culture spanning well over a hundred years so, when Spanish giants Atletico Madrid decided to venture into India, it was no surprise their preferred destination was the City of Joy. Kolkata's favourite son - former India Test captain Sourav Ganguly - is also a co-owner of the franchise, who won the inaugural league two years ago. Liverpool legend Luis Garcia was the marquee player in 2014 and last year's marquee man - former Tottenham and Valencia striker Helder Postiga - is back to spearhead their title quest alongside the second-top scorer in ISL history, Canada international Iain Hume.
Reigning champions Chennaiyin will be managed for the third year in succession by World Cup winner Marco Materazzi. After languishing in bottom spot in the standings after 10 matches, Materazzi guided the team on a league record five-match winning streak, before a play-off win against Atletico Kolkata and victory against FC Goa in the final, saw them lift the 2015 title. Chennaiyin will have to make do this year without last season's league top scorer Stiven Mendoza - currently at MLS side New York City - although they managed to snap up former Liverpool and Roma left-back John Arne Riise, who spent last year with Delhi Dynamos.
Delhi Dynamos also have a 2006 World Cup winner managing them in former Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan full-back Gianluca Zambrotta. Zambrotta, 39, whose only previous stint in management was an 18-month spell at Swiss side Chiasso, will no doubt lean heavily on marquee player Florent Malouda, who returns to the Indian capital after a successful stint in 2015. Delhi became the first ISL club to loan a player from the Premier League when they signed former West Brom youngster Adil Nabi for the 2015 ISL, and have this year signed Adil's younger brother Samir, who was top scorer for West Brom's U21s last season.
Goa were three minutes away from winning the second edition of the Indian Super League, only to concede twice in the dying stages to lose 3-2 against Chennaiyin in a dramatic 2015 final. Brazil legend Zico leads Goa - who have reached the play-offs in each of the first two seasons - for the third year in a row, and the 63-year-old has retained former Selecao captain Lucio as the club's marquee player. A further seven Brazilian players, as well as India international striker Robin Singh, have also been drafted in for the 2016 season.
FC Pune City:
After recruiting ex-Chelsea and Juventus forward Adrian Mutu as their marquee man last season, Pune have turned to another former Blue in Eidur Gudjohnsen to try and lead them to the play-offs for the very first time. David Platt managed a Pune side last season that featured a number of familiar faces to English football fans, including Steve Simonsen, Nicky Shorey and Roger Johnson. Ex-Bolivia coach Antonio Lopez Habas, who guided Atletico Kolkata to the inaugural title in 2014, takes charge this season and faces a tough opening assignment as Pune host FC Mumbai City in a Maharashtra derby in their first fixture.
Kerala are managed by an Englishman for the third year on the trot with Steve Coppell succeeding Peter Taylor, after David James guided the team to the runner-up spot in 2014. Co-owned by Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, Blasters snapped up Aaron Hughes as their marquee signing, and the Northern Ireland centurion is joined in Cochin this season by British trio Graham Stack, Michael Chopra and Antonio German.
After improving one place to sixth in last year's standings, Mumbai made a splash ahead of the 2016 season by sealing a big-money move for former Manchester United and Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan. Last year's player-boss Nicolas Anelka is no longer at the club so Forlan will be partnered in attack by Indian national team hero and former QPR target Sunil Chhetri. Former Costa Rica manager Alexandre Guimaraes will take charge of the side, who have this season moved to a new home called the Mumbai Football Arena.
North East United:
North East United will host a glittering opening ceremony as well as the first fixture of the 2016 ISL when they entertain Kerala Blasters in Guwahati on Saturday. The team - which represents eight states in the Northeast region of India - are aiming to reach the latter stages of the ISL for the first time in their history and can call upon former Tottenham midfelder Didier Zokora as their marquee player.