By Philip O'Connor
STOCKHOLM, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Foreign players who join India's Super League are not just mercenaries chasing one final big payday but they will help to establish soccer in the cricket-mad country, former Manchester United midifelder Bojan Djordjic told Reuters.
The well-travelled 32-year-old is one of 49 international players who will be up for grabs in the draft on Thursday ahead of the inaugural Super League season, which starts in October.
The eight-team Super League will feature teams from cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bangalore, and run over three months until December.
The top four sides will qualify for the semi-finals, which will be played over two legs, with the winners advancing to a one-off final.
Strict rules apply to player rosters, with each team required to have one "marquee player", seven foreigners and 14 Indians, four of whom must be from the city in which the team is based.
Djordjic will join marquee names such as former Juventus striker David Trezeguet and former Arsenal winger Fredrik Ljungberg in the first season of the fledgling football league.
Serbian-born Djordjic believes that educating the domestic players is key to long-term Super League success.
"They (the foreigners) will teach these players how a midfielder, how a defender, how a striker works," he said.
"Indian players have the talent but they haven't had the structure and organisation to work as a team and win games.
"People love football. You can see how many Indians watch the World Cup, how many watch the Premier League. They have football in their blood, not just cricket. These big players will help to raise the profile," Djordjic added.
Winner of the young player of the year at Manchester United in 2000, Djordjic only made two appearances for the Premier League club but still went on to enjoy a successful career, winning league titles with Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, Videoton in Hungary, and AIK in Sweden.
MAKE IT IN BOLLYWOOD
He spoke to Reuters at an Indian restaurant in Stockholm, a stone's throw from the former Rasunda stadium where he dominated the midfield for AIK in their double-winning 2009 season.
Well-known for his forthright opinions, the fiery midfielder made an acrimonious departure from the club shortly afterwards, but returned to AIK earlier this year as a youth team coach and as a player with feeder club Vasalund.
But when he was offered the chance to go to India, Djordjic jumped at the chance to take part in what he sees as a hugely exciting project.
"I'm hoping to bring something else there - there's one billion people, they love the sport, and I'm hoping we can move football forward in the right direction," he said, noting the positive influence that foreigners have had in the U.S. and China in inspiring young players.
"I think India has to concentrate on the youth first of all if they are going to have a team that is going to qualify at some time in the near future for a World Cup. They are so low in rankings that something needs to happen."
Though the deals offered to Djordjic and his foreign compatriots are lucrative, he rejects the suggestion that players who are past their best are going to India simply to cash in.
"When a young player sees David Trezeguet in front of the goal - you don't lose that instinct, you don't lose that touch. Even Alan Shearer now would probably score more goals than some of the Premier League strikers, you know?" he said laughing.
"You can teach them the right movement, how you receive the ball, where you should be, and that's what India needs. To be fair, they've never really had a big, big player, well-known around the world that's made an echo."
Djordjic admitted that he never expected to be leaving Sweden for another foreign adventure at this stage in his career but he will be keeping an open mind about extending his stay abroad.
"You never know with me," he said. "There's a few more continents I haven't been to. It's going to be a great experience, and you never know - I might even make it in Bollywood."
(Reporting By Philip O'Connor, editing by Pritha Sarkar)
- Sports & Recreation
- Bojan Djordjic
- Premier League
- Manchester United
- David Trezeguet