I-League still developing football in India


Indian clubs can't match the sums of money that have recently taken Didier Drogba to Shanghai and Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney, or the cashed-up domestic cricket teams that have the biggest stars in their sport flocking to the subcontinent.

What they do have is a vast population of potential fans, a globally popular game and a burgeoning domestic league.

For the sixth season of the country's professional league, champion Dempo has recruited former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Rohan Ricketts; Prayag United signed Carlos Hernandez, the player of the 2009-10 season in Australia's A-League and a member of Costa Rica's 2006 World Cup team; and second-tier club Dodsal FC has been linked to former Manchester United and Arsenal star Mikael Silvestre.

Imported players are still crucial to the development of the sport in a country of 1 billion-plus people. Over the years, the All India Football Federation has relied on government funding _ and even handouts from the Board of Control for Cricket in India _ to sustain a professional domestic competition.

Africans, especially Nigerians, still make up the majority of imports in the I-League and there are always a smattering of Brazilians but as well as Ricketts and Hernandez, this season there are players from, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Philippines, North Korea and Afghanistan in the league.

I-League CEO Sunardo Dhar believes that this is a step in the right direction as football strives to prosper in a country virtually obsessed with cricket.

``These are big players and big signings and it is a good thing for India,'' Dhar told The Associated Press. ``Any positive news is obviously good. The money that Indian players receive is obviously good and so it is not a big surprise that good players from overseas are coming in and playing. Carlos Hernandez refused three A-League clubs in Australia to come to India.''

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