Set to start his stint as manager-cum-player of Chennaiyin FC, Italian World Cup winner Marco Materazzi on Monday, promised to do his best to raise the profile of the game in the country through the Indian Super League which kicks off next month.
Materazzi, a marquee player-cum-manager, said he would be happy if football becomes a popular sport in India through the ISL.
"Cricket is a religion in India but we will grow very fast and we will go a long way. I am happy to be playing with some of the best Indian players in ISL," he said while releasing the logo of Chennaiyin FC at a function along with Vita Dani, co-owner of the team. (Also read: Sourav Ganguly says foreign players will help Indians improve in ISL)
"At the moment no (perspective about it). I would like to go and see the game. Football is the most popular sport in the world. We will do our best to make football most popular (in India), perhaps in about 10 years," said Materazzi, who has 42 international caps for Italy from 2001 to 2008 and figured in two World Cups.
Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan, also a co-owner of the team, was not present since he was travelling.
Materazzi, who was infamously headbutted by France great Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup which Italy won, said he would be manager first and may think of playing in ISL when required only.
"I am manager first. In a match we can field six players (foreign) in the 11 member team. If they need my help, I will play. We have a lot of good players and I am not the best player. We need to grow in the tournament. Our object is to win and we will do our best to win matches," said the 41-year-old.
"It is a great opportunity for me to be the manager of the team. It is the first time for me as a manager-cum-player in my career. I was in Bangalore and we are happy to have been training together."
Asked if the headbutting incident of 2006 sill haunted him, Materazzi said, "It was important that I held the Cup after scoring the winning goal."
On having Tamil Nadu players in his team, the Italian said, "We are playing to have two or three but I am not going to divulge anything more as I need to talk to my boss of the team."
Asked if Chennaiyin FC will have enough time for training before the league as 20 days are left for its kick-off, Materazzi said, "We have to work hard. The other teams have already started training together before us but we have to make good of the opportunities. We will work harder and put our best performances to win matches."
Materazzi was asked whether he had inspected the playing area and other facilities at the stadium but one official from the organisers said "the playing field is not yet ready and it would be handed over to the team in couple of days time".