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India's new star-studded league postponed

February 22, 2012


Italy's Cannavaro was among the international stars signed to play the league.

NEW DELHI: A new football league in the Indian state of West Bengal featuring semi-retired world stars has been postponed after encountering “many problems”, organisers said Wednesday without elaborating.

The franchise-based Premier Soccer League (PLS), based along the lines of cricket's popular Indian Premier League, was due to be played across six venues in West Bengal from March 24-May 6.

Former Argentina star Hernan Crespo, Italy's World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, Robert Pires of France and England's Robbie Fowler were among the stars signed to play alongside district-level players.

“We will announce the new dates soon,” said Utpal Ganguli, secretary of the Indian Football Association, the name of the body running the sport in West Bengal.

“There are many problems which need to be sorted out. We are confident the tournament will be held in West Bengal. But for now, it is not starting on March 24.”

Ganguli declined to spell out the reasons for the delay, but opposition from state authorities and shortage of good quality pitches have been widely blamed.

Six local business groups that bid successfully for a team to play in the PLS had splurged around $7 million to buy the world stars at an auction last month.

Crespo was picked up for $840,000 and Cannavaro for $830,000, while former Arsenal star Pires fetched $800,000, Nigerian Jay Jay Okocha got $550,000 and Fowler was sold for $530,000.

The PLS has faced numerous hurdles since the ambitious project was announced a month ago.

The All-India Football Federation (AIFF) refused to allow Indian players from the official domestic I-League to join, saying the PLS was essentially a state-level tournament.

This month, the AIFF temporarily suspended the organisers from taking part in FIFA's Transfer Matching System —necessary for hiring foreign players —because the six new teams had not been properly affiliated.

The latest trouble appears to be the reluctance of the state government to release grounds owned by it for the PLS unless details of the tournament finances and the source of funding were made clear.

The tournament was to be held in the state capital of Kolkata and five district towns of Howrah, Durgapur, Siliguri, Barasat and Haldia.