The much-anticipated IPL-style football league, which will be called 'Indian Super League', will kick-off in January 2014. Organisers IMG-Reliance, on Monday, announced that international stars, former Trinidad and Tobago and Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, former Sweden captain and Arsenal star Fredrik Ljungberg, ex-Argentina striker Hernan Crespo and former France and Arsenal winger Robert Pires have confirmed their availability for the event that will run through March.
"Crespo, Yorke, Ljunberg and Pires have confirmed their availability," a statement from IMG-Reliance read.
With these signings, the names of five marquee players out of eight are known and the remaining three are expected to be named in a few days.
IMG-Reliance has also signed up former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and 1998 World Cup winner France international Marcel Desailly as two of the eight managers for the January 18 to March 30 tournament.
The announcement came a day after IMG-Reliance entered into a multi-million dollar deal with Star India to become equity partners in a joint venture for the next 10 years to run the league.
Star India, in which media baron Rupert Murdoch has a majority stake, reportedly has a one-third stake in the JV and has acquired broadcast and sponsorship rights for the league.
Reports said Star India, which also holds telecast rights to BCCI cricket matches in India, is paying Rs 2,000 crore.
"Reliance Industries Ltd., Star India and International Management Group are set to launch the 'Indian Super League', an unrivalled football championship that will foster local talent and feature international stars with the aim of making the game one of the country's flagship sport and India – a name to reckon with in the global arena," IMG-Reliance said.
"The League promises to revolutionise the sport from the very get-go, leveraging the strengths of all three partners who are focused on growing the game to national prominence, offer Indian football greater global exposure and eventually help India qualify for the 2026 World Cup," it added.
The organisers also said that they could be looking for a window for the second edition of the league next year itself.
"The 'Indian Super League' will feature eight city specific teams to start with and will tap the burgeoning interest among the country's young population that's increasingly seen taking interest in the sport globally. The League will kick-off in January 2014 and will run through March 2014, with plans for a second window in the same year."
Commenting on the development, IMG-Reliance chairperson Nita Ambani said, "Football, with its largely untapped potential in the country, has the opportunity to grow to an unrivalled commercial success quite unlike any other sport. We hope the growing football footprint will pave the way for the nation's sporting renaissance."
Uday Shankar, CEO of Star India, said, "India is hungry for its second sport. Combined with our expertise in sports production, our attempt is to bring an unparallelled football experience to our viewers.
"For far too long, the Indian sports fan has quietly waited for this revolution on the cusp of which we stand today. Our objective is nothing short of creating a movement around football in India. We want to put India on the global map."
"The 'Indian Super League' will feature international football stars combined with good football facilities, rivalry between India's biggest cities and the roar of a billion passionate fans," said Mike Dolan, Chairman and CEO IMG Worldwide.
"It envisions creating new football powerhouses in this part of the world, which will rise to global prominence as the country and the sport further develop."
The league will feature eight teams with marquee players from across the world along with India's national stars and club and domestic talents.
The bidding for the eight city-based franchises will be held between October 25 to November 5. The invitation to tender document has already been floated by IMG-Reliance with the base price to buy a franchise is reported to be around Rs 25 crore.
The opening match of the tournament will be played in Mumbai.
Image: Dwight Yorke
Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images