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Just the beginning: ISL auction is a watershed moment in the history of Indian football

There are moments in the life of every sport that serve as turning points for a better future. The Indian Super League auction — which helped create Indian football's first crorepatis - is one such moment in Indian sport.

The ISL auction made crorepatis of Sunil Chhetri (Rs 1.20 crore) and Eugeneson Lyngdoh (Rs 1.05 crore) as six franchises (two teams did not buy in the auction) spent a combined Rs 7.22 crore on ten Indian players who were not part of the ISL last year. The same teams also shelved out out another Rs 5.23 crores in the draft. That's an outlay of almost Rs 12.5 crores in a single day on Indian football players.

 Just the beginning: ISL auction is a watershed moment in the history of Indian football

Pune City co-owner Hrithik Roshan with Jackichand and Lyngdoh. AFP

In doing so, the auction followed other significant commercial milestones in the world of Indian sport. Sachin Tendulkar's WorldTel deal in 1995 worth Rs 30 crore showcased the brand value of a cricketer. No player in the world was earning that sort of money from a deal, let alone from their careers back then.

Saina Nehwal's $7.4 million deal with Rhiti Sports signed in 2012 after she won bronze at the London Olympics made her (briefly, since she pulled out of the deal later) the highest paid badminton player in the world. Badminton product manufacturer Li Ning roped in PV Sindhu a year later for a 'multimillion' deal — Nehwal had proved that badminton players are viable brands in India. Top shuttlers certainly draw inspiration from Saina and Sindhu — performance and incentive-wise.

MS Dhoni's $1.5 million deal in the first Indian Premier League auction in 2008 was also another watershed moment in Indian sports history when it comes to money.

More recently, Vijender Kumar signed with multimillion dollar deal with Queensbury Promotions last month, a move which could push more boxers into chasing the pro dream instead of an Olympic medal.

Apart from Chhetri and Lyngdoh, there were other significant deals at the ISL auction too: defender Rino Anto went for Rs 90 lakhs (up from Rs 17.50 lakhs) and midfielder Thoi Singh was picked up for Rs 86 lakhs (up from Rs 39 lakhs). There was also an instant trade between clubs: FC Pune City decided to pay Rs 11 lakhs to Delhi Dynamos for 19-year-old Fanai Lalrempuia (up from base price of Rs 1.8 lakhs). For a teenager from Mizoram to get a Rs 9.2 lakh hike on his base price was unimaginable two years ago.

A source close to players told us that on an average, drafted players made at least '5-8 lakhs' more. For those in the auction — it was a different story. Lyngdoh's Bengaluru FC contract is approximately worth Rs 35 lakhs. Now he'll net three times that money for a tournament which lasts just over a couple of months. Rino Anto, also at Bengaluru FC, earns between 25-30 lakhs for the I-League and will also earn three times the money for ISL.

Overall, every club has a purse of Rs 21 crore to spend on their roster — a potential Rs 168 crores on mostly unknown players with a smatter of foreign names like Nicolas Anelka and Lucio.

This sort of spending sends out one message: organisers mean business — they are ready to bet on the sport and on people watching it — on television and from stadiums. Also, public interest in players will pique — who is this Ranbir Kapoor paid more than a crore for? Let's go watch him play. And that's the first step into following a sport and a team.

If the ISL's first season was one of testing waters — then the second has shown us that it's more than just a puddle. Despite the national team dropping to 156th in the FIFA Rankings, Indian corporates, industrialists and film stars are ready to spend on football.

Partner and broadcaster Star Sports has also promised 'better angles and better production' for season two.

"Jackichand (Singh) and Lyngdoh went for big money — this is so encouraging. Add to ISL the Pro-Kabbadi League and Hockey India League — it's not just about cricket now. People are watching these sports and stadiums are full. This is good for Indian sport in a way," head coach of reigning I-League champions Mohun Bagan told Firstpost.

In short, it's all happening — and the biggest trickle down effect of the money being spent is the change in mentality it will bring in parents and wards — football is a viable career option now. More money will encourage more children to take football seriously; it will convince parents that if their child is a good football player, he can eventually make as much (if not more) money than a doctor or an engineer. More kids means more coaches and a bigger pool of players to pick from.

"Doctors and engineers will be there — but if your child is good at the game, there's no reason to stop him from picking football as a career. Imagine the money these players will get after five years if the same enthusiasm remains," Sen added.

Rhys Mascerenhas of Football Edge — a player agency with the maximum representation in the draft and auction (74 players) — says that the numbers will increase exponentially.

"From next season, players who play well this season will definitely get an increase. People will look at these salaries as a benchmark. As an agent, this puts me in a good position to demand more for my players - because I know what clubs can spend. This is a landmark moment in earnings for football players. The budget of teams should also be increased next time - to Rs 30 crore (from Rs 21 crore)," he told Firstpost.

In a way, this is what the IPL did — the league, now eight seasons old, clubbed celebrities and India's favourite game in one solid product. Cricketers unheard of were swimming in money — and becoming household names. Despite controversies, the league continues to grow in popularity year-by-year.

The IPL and the ISL cannot be compared — not now at least — but the latter's greatest achievement will be in replicating the trickle down effect of IPL on the national team. This is far fetched now, but at least India has started spending on the game — and that's the first step in a long journey.


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Updated Date: Jul 15, 2015 19:24:01 IST