Bhaichung Bhutia: The ‘Beckham’ effect on MLS could be replicated in India with IMG-Reliance league

The former India skipper stated that every player in the country wants to ply his trade in the IMG-Reliance league...

GOALBY   RAHUL BALI     Follow @rahulatma on twitter

Bhaichung Bhutia feels that the star recruitments to be made by IMG-Reliance for their tournament could have a similar impact on India as the signings of David Beckham and Didier Drogba had on the MLS and China respectively.

The commercial and marketing partners of the All India Football Federation (AIFF)are to rope in several marquee players for their tournament with several high profile names being linked for the same.

When asked as to what is the USP of IMG-Reliance’s initiative, Bhutia opined, “I don’t know yet but it’s true that we are trying to bring in some of the big names in world football. Few players like Michael Owen and a few others can come in and play with the Indian players. Right now if you look into a lot of the Indian players, (they) are just trying to go abroad and play at the European clubs. That is because they want to play with good quality players, big names and go into the big clubs.”

“It’s important that if you have a few big names, that makes a big impact. When (Didier) Drogba signed in China, it made news worldwide. MLS didn’t have so much coverage until David Beckham went there. So football would be noticed not just in Asia but around the world. It’s a great opportunity for our Indian players to play with the likes of Michael Owen, if in case in future they happen to come in.”

The 36-year old believes that the IMG-Reliance league needs to be backed by all stakeholders given the fact that the I-League has been struggling and hasn’t had the impact it was ought to make.

“Being the president of the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) and having spoken to the players, I think they (the players) are looking forward to it. More than that the players, it is going to benefit Indian football at large.

“If you look at last five to ten years, the way I-League and Indian football has gone, we have not been able to make a big impact. I think it’s important that we have new teams and new investors investing into the game, big footballers from across the world coming and playing a tournament like IPL which is for two and a half months. I think that will bring a lot of people to the ground.”

While the I-League clubs haven’t yet accepted the new tournament fearing that the country’s top division league may go down the Santosh Trophy way, Bhutia believes that the IMG-Reliance’s initiative shall have a positive impact on the national league sooner or later.

“I think I-League is struggling at the moment. It’s important that this two and a half month tournament would bring in people, bring in investors, sponsors and also generate a lot of interest. A lot of hype (will be created) so a lot of youngsters want to make football a career. Then they can see that they can make a career out of it.

“Also for the I-League clubs, I own one of the I-League clubs, as an owner, I can say its good for Indian football and it will benefit I-League as well sometime or the later. We need to be positive. Everybody has to come together and make sure that the tournament goes well and let’s see how it goes then.”

India are ranked 145 in the latest FIFA world rankings and the Sikkimese Sniper mentions that the national team shall benefit from the new tournament as it would aid in improving the quality of players which shall in the long run, also profit the I-League.

“If you look at the larger picture of Indian football, this tournament is very, very important.  We need to realise that for the last ten years, we have looking where have we gone? Have we reached the top 20 in Asia? We have not made a mark. In my 16 years of international career, the biggest achievement was to qualify for the Asian Cup and that’s happened once. The next Asian Cup in Australia, we have not qualified. We are already out of the pre-qualifiers.

“It’s important that we look into the national side of it which the players get exposure. Players play an important role. They get more exposure, more confidence, (play) more competitive matches with quality players, and so then the quality improves in the players. Once the players’ quality improves, the clubs and the national team also reap the benefits.”


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