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Tendulkar among co-owners as Indian football league all set to take shape with team draft

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NEW DELHI - Retired batting great Sachin Tendulkar will lead a clutch of former cricketers and movie stars in promoting the start of the Indian football league.

Tendulkar and former India captain Sourav Ganguly are among team owners in the Indian Super League, which will have its draft for foreign players in Mumbai on Thursday when 49 big names will be available for eight franchise teams.

Former Arsenal midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg and ex-Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra, who is of Indian origin, will be among the top names featuring in the draft for the October-December tournament.

The tournament schedule has not yet been announced.

A similar process for Indian players was completed last month and the teams are allowed to contract two international players directly and five each from the draft in their squads of 22.

Tendulkar and Ganguly have been part of promotional events for their franchises Kerala Blasters and Atletico de Kolkata, which are based in two of the more football-crazy parts of the country.

Former India football captain I.M. Vijayan feels the likes of Tendulkar are not just cosmetic additions but take keen interest.

"I have had discussions with him (Tendulkar)," Vijayan said ahead of the draft. "I've been impressed by his knowledge of soccer, his ideas about the game, and eagerness to know more about it.

Tendulkar is a co-owner along with business group PVP ventures while Ganguly co-owns the Kolkata team as part of a consortium that also includes Spanish league team Atletico Madrid.

Bollywood actors Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham are among the other co-owners of teams in Pune, Mumbai and Shillong, respectively.

The tournament, featuring mostly semi-retired stars, might be easier to market in India due to the presence of cricketers and actors, but how will it change the standard of the game in a country which is ranked 150th in the world?

"I can't say that ISL has come in and it will change Indian football and we are going to qualify for the World Cup," retired star Bhaichung Bhutia said. "But it definitely is not going to damage Indian football."

Noted Indian football writer Jaydeep Basu feels the only benefits of the tournament will be getting spectators to the ground and improvement of infrastructure at the eight venues.

"How can you improve the standard of the game with an 11-week league?" Basu said. "People have been working on the game for years around the world and if only money could help improve the game, countries of the middle-east would have been multiple world champions."

The ISL is being organized by IMG-Reliance, which is also the main sponsor of the All India Football Federation after agreeing a 15-year marketing contract in 2010.

The Super League is an additional tournament after a national I-League tournament run by the AIFF which features several foreign players but no big names.

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