Panaji, May 29 : John Abraham put money where his mouth is by picking up an astronomical 95 per cent of the stakes at NorthEast United FC.
The Bollywood actor has often spoken of his abundant love for the beautiful game and remains as football-obsessed as they come. More proof was provided when it emerged that he had picked up an overwhelming majority of the stakes at the north eastern franchise of the Indian Super League.
"For all practical purposes, you can call me the sole owner," the Bollywood star said while speaking exclusively to TOI at his office in Mumbai on Thursday.
According to sources, the remaining five per cent of the stakes are owned by two of John's friends.
John's stakes at NorthEast United have risen considerably after Shillong Lajong FC decided to offload its holding to focus on grassroot and youth development in the north eastern region.
"Lajong has decided to sell its stake in NorthEast United to focus on our principal vision of building our youth development programs," said Larsing Ming Sawyan, managing director of the club.
The ISL has eight franchisees and barring Delhi Dynamos, all franchisees have either a Bollywood star or star cricketer providing the glamour quotient. In India where celebrity is king, it's no surprise to see the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (Kerala Blasters), Sourav Ganguly (Atletico de Kolkata), MS Dhoni (Chennaiyin FC), Virat Kohli (FC Goa), Hrithik Roshan (Pune City FC) and Ranbir Kapoor (Mumbai City FC) lending their name and face to the franchise.
None of the celebrity owners, though, have invested in the franchise as much as John. Most have anything between four and 12 percent stakes, while Tendulkar enjoys a considerably larger share -- understood to be 40 percent -- at Kerala Blasters.
"We have a great working relationship and Ming is a dear friend. But we parted ways. Ming needed to continue working with Shillong Lajong and I wanted to focus on NorthEast. We are showing support to each other and still source our players from the club but it's a fact we wanted to reach out to a larger north east," said John.
"NorthEast United belongs to the people of the north east. John is only a facilitator. When people talk about clubs and ownerships, my name is taken first with NorthEast and that's only because of my passion for football. It is my responsibility to build a winning team for the future," he said.
NorthEast United finished at the bottom of the eight-team league table in the inaugural edition but have now set out to correct the wrongs with the appointment of Bruno Satin and Simon Festinesi -- representatives of the London based Base Soccer -- as technical directors.