KOLKATA, May 7: The owner of Spanish giants Atletico Madrid predicted exciting times for football in cricket-mad India Wednesday as he revealed one of the teams lining up in a controversial new league would be called Atletico Kolkata.
The Spanish club, who are in the final of this year’s Champions League and top of La Liga, are co-owners of the Kolkata franchise in the newly-created Indian Super League (ISL) that kicks off in September.
“This is an exciting time to be in India,” owner Miguel Marin told reporters as the franchise’s name was announced at a press conference.
“We are very excited at the prospect of creating connection with one of the largest demographics for football globally,” Marin added.
“Our joint ownership of the club is testimony to our commitment to the Kolkata franchise. Through this franchise, the club will work to improve the game in India.”
Atletico are the only prominent international club linked to the ISL, which will see eight city-based teams compete against each from mid-September until the end of November.
Organised by the All India Football Federation, the league is being backed by India’s Reliance Industries, which is controlled by the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, and by sports management giant IMG.
Players’ lists have not been revealed but among those who have been mentioned are ageing stars like former France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, Argentina’s retired marksman Hernan Crespo and ex-Manchester United forward Dwight Yorke.
Atletico Madrid will share the ownership of the Kolkata franchise with former Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly and three city-based businessmen.
Other team owners in the league, to be broadcast by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Star TV network, include cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood stars Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham.
The league has already run into fierce opposition from India’s football top clubs, who say it will threaten their existence and ruin the existing national I-League domestic competition.
Last year similar plans by football officials in West Bengal state — for a franchise-based league featuring fading stars like Argentina’s Crespo and Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro — failed to take off.
India, ranked a lowly 145th in the world and 25th in Asia, has seen a surge in football’s popularity due to live television coverage of matches played around the globe, especially from the English Premier League.