Football: ISL, seeking Indian ‘magic’, sheds foreign stars

New Delhi (AFP) – The Indian Super League has slashed the number of high-earning foreign stars for its new season starting Friday but foreign coaches, including ex-England heroes Teddy Sheringham and Steve Coppell, will be in charge of every team.

Indian fans have been used to seeing the likes of Italy’s Alessandro Del Piero, French striker Nicolas Anelka, and Argentine Diego Forlan during the ISL’s first three seasons.

But as the cash-rich league comes under pressure to nurture home-grown players, teams are now required to have at least six Indians on the field.

The veterans are nearly all gone, with Atletico de Kolkata’s Robbie Keane and Kerala Blasters’ ex-Manchester United stars Dimitar Berbatov and Wes Brown among the few who have tasted football’s big-time.

It means the spotlight will now fall on the Indian players, as well as the foreign coaches in the new championship which has been expanded to 10 teams, increasing the season to almost five months.

Among the managers are Sheringham, 51, who joined reigning champions Kolkata in July, and Coppell at new team Jamshedpur, which is backed by the Tata business empire. 

Former Real Madrid player Miguel Angel Portugal is at Delhi Dynamos, while Ranko Popovic at FC Pune City has coached in his native Serbia, Austria, Japan, Spain and Thailand.

Sheringham welcomed the new player restrictions, which follow a period of unaccustomed success for 105th-ranked India after they qualified for the Asian Cup for only the fourth time.

“I think it’s a good decision to have six Indians on the pitch at all times and it means Indians getting more chances to play and show their skills,” said Sheringham, whose side start against Kerala Blasters in Friday’s opener in Kochi.

– Packed stadiums –

Sheringham, who made 51 England appearances between 1993 and 2002, is one of three English coaches in the ISL, along with fellow ex-Manchester United player Coppell and John Gregory at Chennaiyin.

Sheringham moved to India from unglamorous English fourth-tier side Stevenage. Packed stadiums in India, considered one of football’s new frontiers, drew him to the ISL.

“I was initially sceptical and asked myself whether I needed to come all the way to India to manage,” he said.

“But then I spoke with people — Steve Coppell of course and even (former Kerala player-manager) David James and they all had good things to say.

“Then when I was told we’ll be playing in front of 60,000 supporters, I thought that’s the sort of atmosphere I want to manage in,” said Sheringham.

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