Hernan Crespo became the hottest property of a new Indian soccer league starting next month when the Argentine fetched $840,000 in an auction of players and coaches on Monday.
Crespo was snapped up by the Barasat franchise of Premier League Soccer (PLS), which is modelled on cricket's highly successful Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 tournament and scheduled from February 25-April 8 in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.
The idea of a players' auction was borrowed from IPL, whose success has spawned numerous franchise-based leagues in other sports across the country.
Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro went to Siliguri for $830,000, while Robert Pires of France ($800,000), Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha ($550,000) and Liverpool great Robbie Fowler ($530,000) went to Howrah, Durgapur and Kolkata respectively.
Five franchises collectively spent nearly $7 million, each buying an 'icon' player, two overseas footballers and a coach.
"This auction is unprecedented not only in the history of Indian football but also for world football," Bhaswar Goswami, executive director of the Celebrity Management Group (CMG) which is organising the league, told Reuters by telephone.
"There is an expenditure cap and I must say that the franchises wisely spent their money," he said from Kolkata where the auction took place.
In an otherwise cricket-crazy country, the eastern Indian state of West Bengal is equally passionate about football.
Nearly 120,000 fans gave a rousing reception to Oliver Kahn in the German goalkeeper's 2008 Bayern Munich swansong in Kolkata and Argentina great Diego Maradona almost brought the city to a standstill during his visit the same year.
Howrah will boast PLS's most expensive coach after shelling out $240,000 for former Portugal central defender Fernando Couto.
Former Nigerian player and coach Samson Siasia (Durgapur) and Icelander Teitur Thordorson (Barasat) were both sold for $210,000.
Former Manchester City and Sunderland manager Peter Reid (Kolkata) and Marco Etcheverry (Siliguri), arguably the greatest Bolivian player, went for $200,000 each.comments