The eight-team league kicked off with a rousing start last year with Brazilian Zico headlining the managers’ list and its marquee players including Italian duo Alessandro Del Piero and Marco Materazzi, and Frenchman Anelka.
While Zico has returned for his second year at FC Goa, who also signed former Bayern Munich defender Lucio as their marquee player, former Brazil and Real Madrid defender Roberto Carlos has joined Delhi as their marquee player-cum-manager.
Chhetri, who missed the inaugural edition of the tournament last year after his I-League club did not release him, was sold to Mumbai City FC for 12 million Indian rupees (about $190,000).
The 30-year-old former Indian captain has scored 50 goals for his country and commanded the highest base price of 8 million Indian rupees (about $126,000) at the auction in which nine other I-League players were sold.
The bidding war for Chhetri was expected to be intense but it turned out to be a low-key affair, surprising even the Mumbai owners.
“We had never ever dreamt that we will be able to get the player of the level of Sunil Chhetri at that price,” said Mumbai FC co-owner and Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor.
The relatively low price, though the highest among all 10 players sold, did not bother Chhetri who was excited to team up with Mumbai’s marquee player-cum-manager Anelka.
“As far as money is concerned, I have been playing football for 13 years now and money is no longer the priority,” Chhetri told reporters.
“Money counts, it always will but God has really been kind to me and I am not being diplomatic in saying that it is not the first priority.
“Who wouldn’t be excited to play with Anelka and we know what he can do with the ball.”
Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata, with Spain’s Atletico Madrid and former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly among its owners, won a fierce bidding war for national team defender Rino Anto.
The 27-year-old right-back, who had a base price of 1.75 million Indian rupees, ultimately went for 9 million to Kolkata after a frenetic bidding war.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh, last year’s I-League midfielder of the season, also saw his base price go up almost four times as he was bagged by Pune City FC for 10.5 million Indian rupees.
“I am very excited,” 28-year-old Lyngdoh, who was also not released by Bengaluru FC for the last ISL, said. “I just want to play football and did not think about the price.”
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)