Former Manchester United and France striker Louis Saha on Friday became the first big international star to be roped in for the much-anticipated IPL-style football league to be organised by IMG-Reliance early next year.

Saha, who earned 20 caps for France between 2004 and 2012 and won two English Premier League titles and the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League, is the first marquee player revealed by IMG-Reliance for the January 18 to March 30, 2014 tournament.

“Louis Saha has confirmed his availability for the tournament and we have signed him,” an IMG-Reliance source said. “He is the first marquee player we can reveal now. The names of other seven marquee players will be announced in a few days,” he said. “We hope the Indian players will hugely benefit by playing along as well as against a player of Louis Saha’s quality,” he added.

Saha, who retired from professional football in August after a short stint at Italian Serie A side Lazio, will be picked by a franchisee in the players’ auction which will be held towards the end of next month.

“The names of other seven marquee players will be known by the first week of November,” he added.

The bidding for the eight city-based franchises will be held between Oct. 25 and Nov. 5. Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi, Goa, Delhi and Bangalore will be the eight cities where the franchises would be based, while Guwahati and Hyderabad have been kept in the reserves.

After stints at EPL sides Newcastle United and Fulham, Louis Saha was bought for around £12.4 million by Manchester United during the 2003-04 season. Though injuries plagued his Old Trafford career, he was part of the Premier League winning sides in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 and that of the 2007-2008 UEFA Champions League winning team.

Manchester United stars Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand have high regard for Louis Saha, describing him as one of the best strikers they have ever played with or against.

He made his France debut in 2004 and played in Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. He last played for France against Germany in February last year.

The IPL-style football tournament will feature 22 players in each team, with 10 foreign players, including a marquee player. Each franchise will also include eight domestic players and four local players from the catchment area in the under-23 category.

IMG-Reliance, the commercial and marketing partner of the AIFF, has already signed 39 domestic players and 20 players of AIFF developmental side Pailan Arrows will also be part of the league.

The international players are expected to be signed up for four months and it would be a mix of players who are free agents, recently retired and those who are coming on transfer or loan.

The opening match of the tournament will be played in Mumbai.

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