Indian soccer is starting to establish itself on the world stage. Maybe it’s inextricably linked to the amount of money they offer their players at the moment, but that’s not for me to decide.
The India Super League, or ISL, is attracting big players like the IPL (cricket tournament) and is furthur promoting sport in India. The ISL operates as a closed system, much like the MLS, and has a lot of similarities to Major League Soccer. A lot of footballers whose careers are starting to wind down are heading to the likes of India, the USA, and to a slightly lesser extent Australia.
Founded in October 2013, the season runs from the start of October until just before Christmas. The league is made up of eight teams. Chennaiyin FC, Delhi Dynamos FC, FC Goa, FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters FC, Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United FC and Atlético de Kolkata, who were crowned champions of the inaugural league.
Again, much like the MLS, the league operates on a playoff basis. The top four sides play two semi finals (1st v 4th, 2nd v 3rd) over two-legs, then the final.
India are hoping that due to the huge audiences they're attracting and the infrastructure of the stadiums, they are going to build a sustainable soccer league and I wouldn't be surprised if they throw their hat in the ring for a World Cup in the next 30 years. If Qatar can be given one, why not India?
Famous cricketers such as Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were involved in the franchising process, but which famous soccer players made it over to India?
15 Luis Garcia
Luis Garcia was the first marquee signing made to the newly formed Indian Super League and Atlético de Kolkata were the ones to snap up the Spaniard. Garcia was a key player in Liverpool’s incredible 2005 Champions League victory, scoring winners against Chelsea and Juventus en route to the most incredible final anyone’s likely to see.
After leaving Liverpool he had a successful season with Atlético Madrid, but then darted from Greece, to Mexico, then finally to Argentina before becoming the ISL's Most Exciting Player in the inaugural season. Due to injuries he was not retained for the second season and decided to retire.
14 David James
Some would argue James isn’t exactly the highest calibre of player, however the England goalkeeper racked up the third highest appearances (536) in Premier League history and the most clean sheets (170) over his career in England's top flight.
He moved from England to Iceland then finished his career for Kerala Blasters as the player manager but since then has recently declared bankruptcy.
13 Helder Postiga
Postiga spent most of his time in Spain during his career and never really reached the dizzy heights expected of his talent. Tottenham took a gamble on the striker which didn’t pay off as he left the North London club after one unsuccessful season
The Portuguese striker, at only 33, is a great coup for Atlètico Kolkota and will be up at the top end of the goalscoring charts come the end of the season
12 Joan Capdevila
The one everyone forgets in the Spanish national sides dominance of world football. The left-back, who was the only Spanish player who didn’t make the official Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament, also won the World Cup in 2010. He was the only starting player in the Spanish side in the final of the World Cup to not play for either Real Madrid or Barcelona. He only spent a brief time in India before heading to Belgium
11 Carlos Marchena
Carlos Marchena is another Spanish footballer who is easy to forget in Spain’s world dominance because he didn’t play for Madrid or Barca. He was an important member of the Euro Championship winning side, however lost his place to Gerard Pique in the World Cup winning side.
He enjoyed some success at club level, winning two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup with Valencia. He spent his whole career in Spain before moving to India to represent the Kerala Blasters.
10 Florent Malouda
Florent Malouda, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, is one of Delhi Dynamos most dangerous players. Malouda left Chelsea in unhappy circumstances after refusing to take a wage cut to move away from London, which prompted Chelsea to exclude Malouda from their squad until he was released six months later.
He then moved to Trabzonspor, earning a reported 2.5m euros a year. Once his contract was up in Turkey, he signed for French side Metz for a season before being snapped up by Roberto Carlos’s side in India.
9 Simão Sabrosa
Simão Sambrosa has played for some big clubs during his European career. Appearing for Barcelona, Sporting, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Besiktas and Espanyol, he recently signed on to become NorthEast United’s marquee signing.
The Portuguese creative midfielder still has a lot to offer and his new side have captured a top quality footballer. In his two games with the club, he's already managed to score for them.
8 Fredrik Ljungberg
Ljungberg is one of only a few players who can say they’ve gone a whole season unbeaten in the Premier League. He was part of the Arsenal team labelled ‘The Invicibles’ who won 25 games and drew 13 games during their unbeaten season in 2003/2004.
The midfielder won the Swedish player of the year twice in his career and won the coveted Premier League player of the season in 2001/2002.
His involvement in The ISL was short lived however, after being out of football for two years his persistent back problems on his return proved too difficult to overcome and he returned back to London to take up an ambassador role at his beloved Arsenal after only four games for Mumbai City.
7 Robert Pires
Robert Pires was also part of the prestigious Invincible’s side with Freddie Ljungberg. He was a key member of Arsenal's first team as well as France's as he won the World Cup in his home country in 1998.
After playing last with Aston Villa in 2011, Pires wanted to be a part of the promotion of the ISL and came out of retirement in 2014 to be their marquee signing for the season. He was released by Goa after a season and is currently without a club.
6 Marco Materazzi
The Italian defender, despite being famous for being on the receiving end of ‘that headbutt’ from Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup Final in 2002, was a top quality defender and that's shown by the trophies he picked up during his career.
He played for a whole host of Italian clubs before Inter snatched him for the next 10 years. The Champions League winner was regarded as a solid defender by Marcelo Lippi and Jose Mourinho.
After three years of retirement and being an ambassador for Inter Milan, he left to become the player manager of Chennaiyin FC in the inaugural season of the ISL, a role he still has today.
Yet another World Cup winner amongst the Indian Super League, Lucio was famous for his no nonsense, hard man style of defending. He won the Champions League with Inter Milan yet also played for German giants Bayern Munich.
He returned to Brazil after spending 12 years in Europe and looked set to retire there, but he clearly felt that a season at Goa FC as their marquee player would do no harm to his bank balance.
4 Alessandro Nesta
Brought to the ISL and coaxed out of retiring by Marco Matterazi, Alessandro Nesta is one of the best defenders of all-time. He spent the majority of his career in Italy, however split his 19 year stint in the Serie A in half, appearing firstly for Lazio but then more successfully for AC Milan, winning two Champions Leagues in his time there.
The defender left Milan for Montreal for the season before heading over to India to play for Chennaiyin FC. He is now contracted to be newly created Miami FC’s head coach, who are to begin play in the NASL in April 2016.
3 Alessandro Del Piero
Alessandro Del Piero is one of the best strikers Europe has ever seen. The classy Italian spent the majority of his career in his home country, making a name for himself at Juventus. His stay yielded six Serie A titles and a Champions League winners medal, with another 12 trophies on top of that in a career which spanned 20 years at the Turin giants.
Del Piero moved to Sydney FC from Juventus and finished in the A-League's top five goal scorers in both of the seasons he featured in.
His move to India wasn’t as successful however. Despite his impressive debut, he only scored once for Delhi after signing a four-month contract. Left without a club, the striker hung up his boots.
2 David Trezeguet
Yep, you guessed it, another World Cup winner and a European Championship winner. David Trezeguet spent nearly all of his career alongside Alessandro Del Piero at Juventus, as they created a partnership that was feared all over Europe. Over 10 years at Juventus, he had an incredible scoring record, managing one goal every two games.
Short stints in Spain and Argentina led him to India to play for Pune City FC before heading back to Juventus to become part of their management team.
1 Roberto Carlos
World Cup winner, three time Champions League winner and FIFA World Player of the Year, Roberto Carlos really is the cream of the crop in India. Throw in a few La Liga titles, a UEFA Super Cup, two Brazilian titles, Copa Americas and Confederations Cup, and he’s seen it all and conquered it all.
Carlos, famous for his time spent at Real Madrid during the Galacticos era, left the Spanish capital and played for Fernerbaçhe, Corinthians and Anzhi Makhachkala before moving into management.
Now 42, Carlos is the player/manager for Delhi Dynamos who sit 2nd after their strong start to the season. He only played himself in the first game of the season and hasn’t featured since.