Northeast United FC, the team from the land that loves its football, is ready to launch its ISL campaign against Kerala Blasters on Monday and the club's co-owner, Bollywood star John Abraham, is finding it difficult to keep his enthusiasm in check. (Tournament Preview)
"We have great support, great players, I think we are going to put up a very tough fight. I love to say that we will win it, but my team says I sound very arrogant. So I'm saying we will put up a tough fight," John Abraham said in an interview to PTI.
The cluster of players from the eight north-eastern states along with their international and foreign counterparts, including marquee player Joan Capdevilla, create a "fantastic" atmosphere, according John who is an ardour football fan. (Also read: Sourav Ganguly's Atletico de Kolkata Aims to Bind a Historic Football 'Divide')
"Fantastic! I was shocked when I saw all my players together. We have Joan Capdevilla who won the World Cup with Spain in 2010. He is training the young boys and telling them what to do. It's amazing! The whole camaraderie between our senior players, our foreign players and our Indian boys is absolutely fantastic.
"We are working great as a unit. We have a great coach whose name is Ricki Herbert, national coach of New Zealand. And we have got the best fitness trainer, Lee Taylor. I don't know about the other teams but our boys will run for two hours," John said.
John has high hopes from the inaugural season and says that the event has fulfilled the dream of youngsters who wanted to play with international stars.
"If ISL is successful in its first year and it is very important that it succeeds then all the teams of ISL-1 will be a hit, be it N-E or Delhi or Pune. All the owners are very enthusiastic and we are all a very strong unit together and are collectively representing ISL, we hope ISL works," he said during the team's jersey launch by their lead sponsor HTC.
"All the young players of the all the teams had a dream of playing with international players and they are excited to be playing alongside them," said John.
The Northeast United co-owner has long term dreams for the team which is speculated to have the youngest squad in the tournament.
"We are a really young club, we are probably the youngest club in the Indian Super League by at least five years. Our average age is 23. We are looking at the long game and believe in the emergence of the game," said John.
To meet the ambitious goal of overhauling the football scenario in India, John outlines the importance of an Indian football star that can pull crowds towards the game.
"If India players play in oversees clubs than we will have international stars like Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Sachin Tendulkar. It is our dream that from India we create a football unit," the actor said.
The actor highlighted the need to end bureaucracy and red-tapism in order for sports to excel in India.
"The future of Indian sports is undoubtedly bright provided that we are able to remove the involvement of bureaucracy and red-tapism from the scene because we have 1.2 billion people and if someone doesn't win a medal among it, you obviously blame the bureaucracy because we have loads of talent.
"If I talk about ISL, I can guarantee that within three years you will get the news that one of the players from Northeast united is playing for an international club and that will be the biggest win for us."
The first Northeast United match is going to be played at the Indira Gandhi stadium in Guwahati which has a capacity of 35,000 and is expected to be jam packed.
"The indications that we got is that in Guwahati, we are probably getting a full house. The stadium we have is pretty big and we are getting a full house. That's great news for us and ISL. We hope to get packed stadiums in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai," John added.