Kolkata: Former Argentina striker Hernan Crespo was the most expensive player in an auction on Monday for an inaugural Indian football league based on the successful Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket tournament.
The idea of a players' auction was borrowed from IPL, whose success has spawned numerous franchise-based leagues in other sports across the country.
In a bid to make the game more attractive at the national level, the Indian Football Association (IFA) last month had launched Premier League Soccer (PLS), with each franchise allowed to have four foreign players.
Crespo was bought for his base price of $840,000 by Barasat, one of the five city franchises which will play in the Premier League Soccer tournament to be held in the eastern state of West Bengal in March-April this year.
Italy's World Cup-winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, was the next most expensive after costing Siliguri $830,000.
Former France midfielder player Robert Pires went to Howrah for $800,000 after drawing five bidders, Nigerian playmaker Jay Jay Okocha to Durgapur for $550,000 and ex-England striker Robbie Fowler was taken by Kolkata for $530,000.
Apart from these five 'icon' players which had to sign for different teams, other overseas footballers who were the objects of bids included Nigerian defender Robert Egbeta (Kolkata, $350,000) and midfielder Christian Lara of Ecuador (Barasat, $200,000).
All teams also received a foreign coach - Fernando Couto of Portugal (Howrah, $240,000), Samson Siasia of Nigeria (Durgapur, $210,000), Teitur Thordorson of Iceland (Barasat, $210,000), Peter Reid of England ($200,000) and Marco Etcheverry of Bolivia (Siliguri, $200,000).
Five franchises collectively spent nearly $7 million, each buying an 'icon' player, two overseas footballers and a coach. Teams have a salary cap of $2.5 million.
The league is organized by a company called Celebrity Management Group and the Indian Football Association and is expected to boost the popularity of the sport by giving local players a chance to learn from top professionals and experienced coaches.
"This auction is unprecedented not only in the history of Indian football but also for world football. The response has been fabulous considering this is a new idea," CMG executive director Bhaswar Goswami said in Kolkata, where the auction was held. "We'll now have another auction on February 2 for Indian players."
The tournament was originally planned to have six teams but the city franchise of Haldia failed to find any financial backers.
Organizers also said they would announce new dates for the tournament, which was originally due to be held from February 25 to April 8, but is now expected to begin in mid-March.
Indian football has been in the news lately despite its national team being ranked a lowly 158th by FIFA.
India qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup by winning a competition for second-tier nations and had also reached the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup before losing to the United Arab Emirates.
National body All India Football Federation, which runs its own competition called the I-League, has also managed to bring in some money to the game lately.
IMG-Reliance - a partnership between IMG Worldwide and Indian company Reliance Industries Ltd. - signed a 15-year deal in 2010 worth $140 million for all commercial rights to promote and market football in the India.
Foreign clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich have also been organizing activities and planning academies in the country in a bid to increase their fan base in this cricket-crazy country of 1.2 billion.
West Bengal, though, is equally passionate about soccer. 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.