Mumbai City FC forked out a whopping Rs 1.20 crore in the first-ever Indian Super League auction yesterday to snap up India’s highest goalscorer Sunil Chhetri. The franchise warded off a half-hearted attempt from Delhi Dynamos in the auction, which took place at a city hotel, to wrap up the signing in a few minutes — a far cry from the tug-of-war that ensued for players like Rino Anto, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Jackichand Singh.
Bollywood actor & Mumbai City FC co-owner Ranbir Kapoor (right) with new signing Sunil Chhetri pose after the ISL-II players’ auction at a city hotel yesterday. Pic/PTI
The striker’s hefty base price of R80 lakh might have acted as a deterrent for many franchises, considering only Mumbai and Delhi bid for the player. For the record, as many as six franchises (Mumbai, FC Pune City, FC Goa, Kerala Blasters, Atletico de Kolkata and NorthEast United FC) were in the fray for Lyngdoh’s signature.
Mumbai might have forked out the highest amount on one player in signing Chhetri, but the franchise’s co-owner Ranbir Kapoor was surprised at the ease with which the 30-year-old was bought. “We hadn’t thought even in our wildest dreams that we’d land Sunil. He’s a team leader and captain. A dream come true,” Kapoor told reporters yesterday.
While money might have been a factor for many clubs not bidding for the star forward, for Mumbai the signing will be a much-needed upgrade in attack. Mumbai, who had forwards like Diego Nadaya, Lalrindika Ralte, Singam Subhash Singh and Andre Moritz in their ranks besides French striker Nicolas Anelka, scored only 12 goals in their 14 league games to finish a lowly seventh in the inaugural ISL.
Kapoor added: “When the last season began, everybody said we had the strongest team on paper. I guess we have learnt from our mistakes. Last year was extremely disappointing for us. Hopefully this year, we’ll come back with a bang and play some quality football. With Sunil coming into our side, we have the upper hand.”
Chhetri’s signing will set up the mouthwatering prospect of Anelka and the Indian footballer leading Mumbai’s attack — a scenario that the Indian striker is relishing.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with Anelka. We know what he can do with the ball. I can’t wait to play with Anelka and the rest of the team,” Chhetri said.
Indranil Das Blah, CEO of the franchise, added: “You don’t win matches or a league without scoring goals. With Anelka and Sunil in our ranks, defences should be worried of us.”
ISL auction: Mumbai City FC bag Sunil Chhetri for Rs.1.20 crore
While Mumbai actively bid for players like Thoi Singh, Jackichand and Eugeneson, Chhetri was Mumbai’s only purchase in the auction. The franchise did pick up goalkeeper Debjit Majumder, who was awarded as the best ’keeper in the last I-League season, goalkeeper Albino Gomes, Lalchhaunmawia Fanai, midfielder Pratesh Shirodkar, left back Keegan Pereira, winger Ashutosh Mehta and midfielder Brandon Fernandes in the draft.
‘It’s not about money’
Meanwhile, as Lyngdoh fetched R1.05 crore, almost four times his R27.50 lakh base price and Anto went for five times his base price of R17.50 lakh (R90 lakh), India star Chhetri said it didn’t matter that he was sold for a comparatively small sum over and above his R80 lakh base price. “As far as money is concerned, I’ve been playing football for 13 years. Now money is the not the priority. I’m just really happy that Mumbai has signed me and I’m just looking forward to start my training. Money comes, it always does,” said Chhetri.
Mumbai's top picks yesterday
Sunil Chhetri: Rs 1.2 crore
Albino Gomes: Rs 10 lakh
Pratesh Shirodkar: Rs 16 lakh
Keegan Pereira: Rs 32 lakh
Ashutosh Mehta: Rs 20 lakh
Debjit Majumder: Rs 15 lakh
Lal’mawia Fanai: Rs 15 lakh
Brandon Fds: Rs 12 lakh