Indian Super League can grow football in India - Peter Reid

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Football in India 'ready to explode'

Former Sunderland and Manchester City manager Peter Reid says the new Indian Super League can be the start of a new dawn for football in India.

Reid is manager of Mumbai City, who start the inaugural competition away to Atletico De Kolkata on Sunday, although only 20,000 out of 68,000 tickets for the match have been sold.

"Football is in India and one thing I know is that it will grow," Reid told BBC Sport. "The ISL is very well organised. This project is only going to get bigger."

Reid will be joined by some high-profile names in the competition, with veterans Alessandro Del Piero, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and David James among the marquee players.

Nicolas Anelka, Marco Materazzi and Michael Chopra are also involved, while Brazil legend Zico will coach FC Goa.

From left to right: Freddie Ljumgberg, David James, David Trezeguet, Robert Pires, Nita Ambani, Alessandro Del Piero, Joan Capdevila, Luis Garcia and Mikael Silvestre
The marquee players of the eight ISL clubs include some famous names

The ISL will run as a 10-week, eight-team tournament with the aim of increasing the popularity of the sport in a country where cricket dominates.

India are ranked 158th in the world but ISL organisers say part of their vision is to help the country "become a global football power" and qualify for the 2026 World Cup.

Reid, 58, has been impressed by the organisation of the ISL and the amount of interest in English and Spanish football in India.

"We drove past a beach and there were so many people playing football it surprised me," he said.

"It will grow and one of the reasons is the Premier League. The Indians are watching this and La Liga is on as well."

The former Everton midfielder, who won 13 caps for England and played in the 1986 World Cup, added: "While I have been in India, I went to watch the Liverpool-Everton derby at a Liverpool supporters' club.

Marquee players in the Indian Super League
Atletico De Kolkata: Ex-Spain and Liverpool forward Luis Garcia
Chennaiyin: Ex-Brazil and Manchester City playmaker Elano
Delhi Dynamos: Ex-Italy and Juventus forward Alessandro Del Piero
FC Goa: Ex-France and Arsenal winger Robert Pires
FC Pune City: Ex-France and Juventus striker David Trezeguet
Kerala Blasters: Ex-England and Liverpool goalkeeper David James
Mumbai City: Ex-Arsenal and Sweden midfielder Freddie Ljungberg
Northeast United FC: Ex-Spain and Villarreal defender Joan Capdevila

"There were Evertonians in there as well - only a couple of us, mind - but it was fantastic. There are also Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea supporters' clubs.

"Hence the grassroots and getting the children playing because they are playing on the beaches. There aren't many pitches about so that has to grow."

Reid says Mumbai City are trying to build the game at grassroots level and hopes his side's performances in the ISL can help them achieve that aim.

"We had a practice game the other day and it was such a physical game," he said. "I was thinking, 'dear me'.

"The foreign players are in the twilights of their careers but they can still handle a football and have got good technique.

"What we have got with the Indian lads is really good professionals.

"It's marrying them together. You never know until the first game in training, but it is going well at the moment.

Peter Reid watched the Liverpool v Everton derby at a Liverpool supporters' club in India
Reid watched the Liverpool-Everton derby at a Liverpool supporters' club in India

"There is a good feel about the players, a good atmosphere around the place."

The Salt Lake Stadium, venue for Sunday's opening ISL game between Atletico Kolkata and Mumbai City, can hold more than 100,000 spectators but its capacity has been reduced to 68,000 and ticket sales have been slow.

Atletico co-owner Utsav Parekh told the BBC's Bangla Service that some fans thought the ticket price of £25 was too high.

He said: "We are giving a 50% discount to 10,000 students. Many youngsters have approached us saying that the price is too high for them to buy tickets out of their own pockets."

The country's football governing body, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), has admitted that the ISL is aiming to attract wealthier fans.

"Until now, we were getting people from low- and middle-income groups at our matches," AIFF vice-president Subrata Dutta told the BBC.

"Instead, we are targeting more affluent people from higher income brackets.

"They are the target audience of the sponsors. They are the decision-makers."

Additional reporting by Amitabha Bhattasali and Stephen Fottrell

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