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#BreakingGround: First British Asian premiership footballer signs for Indian Soccer League

The first British Asian to play top flight football has been picked to play in India’s first ever premier football tournament, the Indian Super League (ISL).

Michael Chopra was signed by the Kerala Blasters side, which is co-owned by cricketing great Sachin Tendullkar, during ISL’s international draft for the ISL.

A total of 49 foreign players were drafted during the session for the eight-franchise league, which is slated to run from Oct. 12 to Dec. 20.

Seven players have been directly recruited by the teams.

“When the drafts came up, the first name that caught our attention was that of Chopra,” former England goalkeeper David James, marquee player and manager of the Kerala team, told reporters.

Chopra, who has also played for a host of other Premier League clubs, was the only English player in the draft, which was held at a Mumbai hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Former Manchester United midfielder Bojan Djordjic has joined other marquee names such as former Juventus striker David Trezeguet and former Arsenal winger Freddie Ljungberg in the first season of the football league.

Djordjic, now 32, won the young player of the year award at Manchester United in 2000, but only made two appearances for the Premier League club.

He went on to enjoy a successful career, winning league titles with Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, Videoton in Hungary, and AIK in Sweden.

The top four sides in the Indian Super League will qualify for the semi-finals, which will be played over two legs, with the winners advancing to a one-off final.

Strict rules apply to player rosters, with each team required to have one marquee player, seven foreigners and 14 Indians, four of whom must be from the city in which the franchise is based.

The ISL is bank-rolled by Reliance Industries, controlled by the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, Rupert Murdoch’s Star India and sports management group IMG.

Chennai-based Sun Group had bagged the Bangalore team but opted out at the last minute.

Replacing them will be a team from Chennai to be run by Play on Skills, which has a technical collaboration with Inter Milan in India, organisers said.

The Chennai franchise bagged Djordjic and former Paris Saint Germain and Hull City defender Bernard Mendy, one of the highest-paid foreigners in the $80,000 bracket at Thursday’s draft.

La Liga veteran Jofre Mateu was picked by the Kolkata franchise, owned by a consortium including Spanish giants Atletico Madrid and former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly.

In spite of the country’s large population and surprising popularity of football, India languishes at 150th in the football world rankings.

While the promoters of the new league are confident the ISL will revolutionise soccer in India in much the same way as the similarly named cricket league has done in cricket, not everybody is on board.

Franchises paid about $25 million for a team for 10 years in the ISL, which will also have a fair presence of the country’s film industry in the form of actors Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham as co-owners.

Though the ISL has managed to attract some big-name overseas signings and grabbed eyeballs, opinion remains divided if it can help lift the standard of football in the country which already has an existing national football league (I-League).

“Frankly speaking, the I-League has not delivered. Indian football needed some adrenaline and we are hoping the ISL will help attract people to the game (in India),” Kushal Das, the general secretary of the country’s soccer governing body, said.

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