It can't be easy being Alessandro del Piero now. The man who was summed up by 2006 World Cup winning teammate Andrea Pirlo as "masterclass of nobility" has had zero assists, an equal number of tackles and goals from eight games of the Indian Super League (ISL).
"Del Piero never grows old," Diego Maradona once said. Till a few months ago, it seemed that way as he averaged a goal every two games in the A-League. Del Piero, 40, now has a minimum of three games to justify why Delhi Dynamos invested so much in him. Unconfirmed reports say this marquee's salary is said to be around Rs 10.8 crore for his three months here. That would make him the most expensive player in the ISL.
Also not providing the bang for the buck is Del Piero's former Juventus teammate David Trezeguet, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires. A hamstring injury kept Ljungberg, the former Arsenal and Sweden star, out of seven of the 14 league games. And when FC Goa started climbing north in the table notching up two successive wins, Pires didn't get game time.
Asked about this, FC Goa coach Zico had said that it was about trying to put the best on the field. FC Goa have looked sharper with Andre Santos playing in Pires' position. Contrast this with what former FC Goa assistant-coach Arthur Papas had said two days before the ISL started. "When Pires leaves India, there will be a long-lasting legacy left behind."
Long way to go
"Football in India needed this injection of professionalism and I continue to be surprised by the packed houses at FC Goa's home games. They are my favourites to go all the way now. But for the initial high to continue, a lot of things will need to change. There must be greater involvement of Indian coaches, serious attention to grassroots and a re-look at the quality of marquee players," said Armando Colaco, India's most successful club coach in recent times, who is now helming East Bengal.
"I won't name players but three of the marquees shouldn't have been here. They don't have the physical ability anymore to be relevant in a tournament this intense and in weather conditions they have never experienced. The marquees will have to get younger next season."
About Ljungberg, a former India player associated with the ISL till recently said: "Mumbai do better when he doesn't play. He is struggling to run and the best he can do is essay a good pass." Also requesting anonymity, a franchise official said that not having played since August 2012 means Ljungberg's spirit may be willing, the body isn't.
But if four of the marquee players have been iffy, an equal number has more than pulled its weight. Step forward Elano Blumer, Luis Garcia, Joan Capdevila and David James.
"Elano has been the best marquee in the ISL and it is also because at 33, he is the youngest," said Colaco. He is also the only outfield marquee player to have played seven full games at a stretch.
Before the away match against Northeast United FC on Thursday, a Chennaiyin FC official had said: "We will be playing without two players who between them have scored 12 goals." The official was referring to Elano, who by then had gone to Brazil to recover from a calf injury, and Colombian Stiven Mendoza who had been ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring problem. Chennaiyin FC lost 0-3.
"Elano is an inspiration. He has had 50 caps for Brazil but is still very humble and hardworking. We hope to have him back soon," said Chennaiyin FC coach Marco Materazzi.
Garcia too has been known to do that with Atletico de Kolkata. Crucial to their success is Garcia's ability to find striker Fikru Lemessa between the lines of midfield and defence. The former Barcelona playmaker also scored the winner against Northeast United and was denied what should have been an equaliser against Kerala Blasters. With Jofre Gonzalez and Borja Fernandez, Garcia forms a Spanish attacking trident Atletico de Kolkata are wobbly without.
By shifting from his usual left-back position to centre-back after the first match, Capdevila showed he is willing to be a team player. The central defensive partnership between the 2010 World Cup winner and Miguel Garcia have led to NorthEast, the team thinnest on experience, conceding the least number of goals (9) along with Atletico de Kolkata.
James has been able to put his financial problems behind and manage the dual role of being Kerala Blasters' goalkeeper and manager. "He has mentored the team just like a marquee should and under him, Sandesh Jhingan, I think, has emerged as the best Indian in the ISL," said Colaco.
Getting a return on investment on a player is risky business. But this being the first season it should be a learning experience for all.