The long wait to watch world-famous footballers in action is over. Now fans in India will not have to appease themselves by watching football on TV, because a host of footballing legends are set to grace turfs across the country during the Indian Super League that kicks-off on Sunday, October 12. Here is the list of the top 15 to watch out for:
1. Alessandro Del Piero
A footballing powerhouse in himself, Del Piero has won the World Cup with Italy as well as the Champions League and multiple Serie A titles with Juventus, where he is regarded as an all-time great. At 39, he might have lost some of that pace but recent exploits in the Australian League suggest that there is enough gas in the tank to set the ISL on fire. More than just a frontman, the Italian will be pulling the strings for the Delhi Dynamos.
2. Nicolas Anelka
EPL fans will recognise this familiar face who played for Chelsea as recently as 2012. But the Frenchman has also represented Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Juventus. A mercurial striker, his finishing is beyond compare but he can be moody at times which earned him the nickname ‘Le Incredible Sulk’. Mumbai City FC will be his 12th professional club.
3. Robert Pires
Bobby as he is fondly called is an Arsenal and France legend, having won multiple EPL and FA Cup titles at club level, and the World Cup and European Championship at international level. The winger retired from football 3 years ago, so quite how good he is at 40 remains to be seen. But if he can rediscover even a little bit of that old magic, FC Goa has a gem on its hands.
4. Marco Materazzi
The Italian won the World Cup as well as the Champions League and several Serie A titles with Inter Milan, but he is most notorious for being the victim of the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt in 2006. At 6 ft 4 in, Marco will be an imposing presence in the heart of the Chennaiyin FC defence and opposition teams will find it tough to go past him. He will also be doubling up as their manager!
5. David Trezeguet
Like Pires, this former France striker has also won the World Cup and European Championship. Having spent most of his career with Juventus, the 36-year-old has plenty of experience at the highest level. Lethal in front of goal, expect this hitman to score plenty for Pune City FC.
6. David James
The 44-year-old English goalkeeper has played for 9 different clubs including Liverpool and Manchester City and has represented England at the World Cup. Although he hasn’t won anything of note in his career, he packs a lot of experience and will be an important presence as the goalkeeper and manager of Kerala Blasters FC.
7. Fredrik Ljungberg
While Pires operated on the left wing at Arsenal, Ljungberg ran the show on the right. The duo played a big part as the ‘Invincibles’ went an entire EPL season unbeaten . His major honours came with the Gunners where he won multiple EPL and FA Cup trophies. A maverick winger in his prime, the 37-year-old retired 2 seasons ago and will have to dig deep to reignite the spark with Mumbai City FC.
8. Luis Garcia
The Spanish striker has played for Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool among other teams, but undoubtedly the best moment of his career is winning the 2005 Champions League title with the Reds. With the knack of popping up at the right place at the right time, the 36-year-old will be on the scoresheet regularly for Atletico de Kolkata.
9. Joan Capdevila
Not too many people know that Capdevila was part of the Spain team that won the 2008 Euro and the 2010 World Cup. The left-back’s club career however has not been as illustrious, having played mainly for Spanish clubs like Espanyol, Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna. At 36, he too is in the twilight of his career but will be a useful addition to the North East United FC squad.
10. Michael Chopra
The English striker has played for the likes of Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Sunderland, and holds the record for the fastest goal by a substitute in the EPL (15 seconds). Chopra’s father is Indian and hence, he is also the first player of Indian parentage to play and score in the EPL. Though not a consistent goalscorer, Chopra is an influential player in the build up to attacks and will be a valuable member of the Kerala Blasters FC squad.
11. Mikael Silvestre
The 37-year-old Frenchman has represented Manchester United, Arsenal and Inter Milan, and has won the Champions League once and the Premier League 5 times. Though not the most gifted of central defenders, he has a lot of experience and will partner Marco Materazzi in the heart of the Chennaiyin defence.
Being a Brazilian, football comes naturally to Elano. The midfielder has played for many top clubs including Manchester City, Galatasaray and Santos, and is known for his accurate passing. He is especially good at set plays, so you can expect him to score from freekicks for Chennaiyin FC.
13. Andre Santos
A member of the Brazil squad that won the 2009 Confederations Cup, the former Arsenal and Brazil star is just 31. The youngest player on this list, he will still have some pace to take on his more illustrious counterparts. Traditionally a left-back, he can also be deployed on the left wing so expect him to make some darting runs through the flanks for FC Goa.
14. Ranti Martins
Unlike the others on this list, the Nigerian striker has already played in India having spent the last 10 seasons in the I-League playing for the likes of Dempo and East Bengal. He has won the national league title in India 5 times and has been a consistent goalscorer for every club that he has played for. Familiarity with Indian grounds and weather conditions will hold the Goa FC striker in good stead.
Technically, Zico does not belong in this list as the 61-year-old will not be playing for any of the teams and is the manager of FC Goa. But having represented Brazil in 3 World Cups and won the World Player of the Year twice, he definitely warrants a mention. If that’s not enough, Zico is often called the White Pele and that is high praise indeed. Zico is also a proven manager having taken Japan to the World Cup and also helped them win the Asian Cup title in 2004.