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By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra was picked by the Kerala Blasters, co-owned by cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar, in an international draft for the upcoming Indian Super League on Thursday.
A total of 49 foreign players were drafted during the session for the eight-franchise league, which is slated to run from Oct. 12 to Dec. 20. Seven players have been directly recruited by the teams.
"When the drafts came up, the first name that caught our attention was that of Chopra," former England goalkeeper David James, marquee player and manager of the Kerala team, told reporters.
"We immediately decided to have him and are happy to have him in this team."
Chopra, who has also played for a host of other Premier League clubs, was the only English player in the draft, which was held at a Mumbai hotel overlooking the Arabian Sea.
Former Manchester United midfielder Bojan Djordjic has joined other marquee names such as former Juventus striker David Trezeguet and former Arsenal winger Freddie Ljungberg in the first season of the football league.
Djordjic, now 32, won the young player of the year award at Manchester United in 2000, but only made two appearances for the Premier League club.
He went on to enjoy a successful career, winning league titles with Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, Videoton in Hungary, and AIK in Sweden.
The top four sides in the Indian Super League 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 franchise is based.
The ISL is bank-rolled by India's Reliance Industries, controlled by the country's richest man Mukesh Ambani, Rupert Murdoch's Star India and sports management group IMG.
Chennai-based Sun Group had bagged the Bangalore team but opted out at the last minute.
Replacing them will be a team from Southern Indian city of Chennai to be run by Play on Skills, which has a technical collaboration with Inter Milan in India, organisers said.
The Chennai franchise bagged Djordjic and former Paris Saint Germain and Hull City defender Bernard Mendy, one of the highest-paid foreigners in the $80,000 bracket at Thursday's draft.
La Liga veteran Jofre Mateu was picked by the Kolkata franchise, owned by a consortium including Spanish giants Atletico Madrid and former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
Cricket-obsessed India languishes at 150th in the world rankings, a state of affairs that has prompted FIFA president Sepp Blatter to dub the country of 1.2 billion the 'sleeping giant' of world soccer.
While the promoters of the new league are confident the ISL will revolutionise soccer in India in much the same way as the similarly named cricket league has done in the nation's favourite game, not everybody is on board.
Franchises paid about $25 million for a team for 10 years in the ISL, which will also have a fair presence of the country's film industry in the form of actors Salman Khan, Ranbir Kapoor and John Abraham as co-owners.
Soccer in India remains popular only in certain areas, while the appetite for the televised game is restricted to the English Premier League or Spain's La Liga.
Though the ISL has managed to attract some big-name overseas signings and grabbed eyeballs, opinion remains divided if it can help lift the standard of football in the country which already has an existing national football league (I-League).
"Frankly speaking, the I-League has not delivered. Indian football needed some adrenaline and we are hoping the ISL will help attract people to the game (in India)," Kushal Das, the general secretary of the country's soccer governing body, said. (Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Julian Linden)