MUMBAI, September 15- Controversial French striker Nicolas Anelka sought to relaunch his career Monday by signing up for the nascent Indian Super League, six months after being sacked from English football in an anti-semitism row.
The 35-year-old former Arsenal, Chelsea, Juventus and Real Madrid star announced that he would be playing for Mumbai City in the inaugural edition of the eight-team league which begins next month.
“I am pleased to join Mumbai City FC and through it participate in the exciting Indian Super League,” Anelka said in a club statement.
“Talented international players and top Indian talent will make matches thrilling affairs. I look forward to using my ability to do well for my team in the matches we play.”
Anelka is the latest in a string of big name signings for the league, including former Italy star Alessandro del Piero, Spanish striker Luis Garcia and ex-England goalkeeper David James.
The tournament, which runs from October 12 to December 20, is aiming to capitalise on growing interest among Indians in football despite the overwhelming popularity of cricket in the country.
Anelka has been without a club since he was fired by West Bromwich Albion in March for “gross misconduct” after he made an alleged anti-semitic gesture known as a quenelle as a goal-scoring celebration.
His sacking was the latest in a long of history of rows and disputes over the course of a career which has seen him play for 11 different clubs in six different countries before heading to India.
As well as playing in a host of top European clubs, he also had a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in China.
– World Cup bust-up –
Anelka also won 69 French caps, scoring 14 goals in an international career which ended in disgrace when he was thrown out of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa following a row with coach Raymond Domenech.
He was handed an 18-match ban for that bust-up, which effectively ended his international career.
His signing is a major boost for the Indian Super League after fading Brazilian great Ronaldinho recently passed up the chance to join one of the teams, opting instead to play in Mexico.
Anelka’s fellow Frenchman David Trezeguet will be playing for Pune City while del Piero will line up for the Delhi Dynamos.
The managers include the legendary Brazilian Zico and Peter Reid, a former boss of the reigning English Premier League champions Manchester City.
Some of the franchises have tie-ups with European football giants such as La Liga champions Atletico Madrid who are the co-owners of Atletico Kolkata.
The 10-week tournament is modelled along the lines of cricket’s cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL).
Several retired cricket stars, including Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, are among the owners along with popular Indian film stars.
Bollywood heart-throb Ranbir Kapoor, who is the owner of Mumbai City, expressed his delight over the signing of Anelka.
“We are delighted to announce the signing of Nicolas Anelka and thrilled that a player with a stunning pedigree such as his is part of our team,” Kapoor said.
“His abilities and experience are known the world over and I am certain his presence will give us the firepower required upfront.”
While most attention is on the ageing foreign stars, at least five of the starting line-up for each team must be Indian.
Although some of the country’s top players have agreed deals with ISL teams, national captain Sunil Chhetri is among several India internationals who have so far rejected the chance of joining the league.
While the eight-month long I-League has suspended matches during the ISL, several owners have spoken out against the new tournament, saying it risked undermining grassroots football.
While India are only 150th in the world rankings, football draws big crowds in some parts of the country — particularly the east — and has been dubbed the game’s “sleeping giant” by Sepp Blatter, president of the world governing body FIFA.