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Players auctioned for Indian Premier League Soccer premiere

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro topped the bidding as world footballers and coaches went under the hammer for the opening season of India's Premier League Soccer (PLS) on Monday (30 January).

Broadcast rights for the new West Bengal-based football league, which have been sold to London-based MP & Sylva, are set to earn about INR 35 crore (US$7 million) in the first year, according to organisers Celebrity Management Group (CMG).

"The rights which have been sold to MP & Sylva will mean that the league will be broadcast in 50 countries," said Bhaswar Goswami, executive director, CMG.

Talks are also currently in progress over securing a PLS broadcast partner in India, and elsewhere in Asia, he said.

The figures are eclipsed by those generated by the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket, on which the franchise model of the PLS is loosely based, however, Goswami points out: "Considering that football is still a struggling sport in India, it becomes clear that these are good revenue numbers."

The new football league will comprise six teams from across the sport's popular Indian stronghold of West Bengal: Kolkata, Siliguri, Haldia, Durgapur, Howrah, and Barasat.

In the international auctions, former Italian defender Cannavaro sold to the Siliguri franchise for $830,000, while attacking French midfielder Robert Pires was bought by Howrah for $800,000.

Ex-England and Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler went to Kolkata for $530,000, while Nigerian star Jay-Jay Okocha will play for Durgapur after going under the hammer for $550,000.

Former Argentina and Chelsea star Hernan Crespo was snapped up by Barasat, though the midfielder failed to reach the highest base price set of $840,000.

Crespo's lawyer Gianluca Chibbaro, who was present at the auction, said the Argentine star was looking forward to playing in PLS. "He is very excited to come to India and play. We all are too much excited. This is going to be hugely successful," Chibbaro told the Press Trust of India.

Premier League Soccer's inaugural season will see 34 games played between March and April 2012 in the stadiums of West Bengal, each of which have at least 15,000 capacity.

When complete, each franchise will comprise one 'icon' player, one 'icon' coach, two overseas players and one overseas player of Asian origin, with the remainder all being Indian. Each squad will have six under 21s, six 'catchment' (local) players and between nine and 14 top Indian footballers.

An auction for India's top players is expected in the first week of February.

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